|At last, this is my first review of a film by John Woo, the undisputed champion of
Double Action cinema. If anyone has any doubts about the DA philosophy and its teachings,
they should simply refer to Woo's extensive collection of brilliantly filmed action
movies, each a masterpiece in its own right.
However, until now,
Woo has previously released only two major U.S. films. Hard Target, with Jean
Claude Van Damme, was the first, with extreme gratuitous and hilarious violence that was
true to the action genre but lacking in plot and substance (which DA viewers can purposely
overlook). Broken Arrow was Woo's second film, and it did well at the box office,
but again, many people were disappointed by the less than interesting plot and DA
enthusiasts were surprised by the toned down action scenes (by Woo's standards).
Enter Face/Off, Woo's latest entry into the genre of action
cinema. I must say that he went a great deal further to add an interesting story to his
movies to draw in the regular crowd, and has toned down his action violence to more
"realistic levels". When the two are combined, as we have here, a perfect
formula for box office success arises.
Since this film has John Travolta and Nicholas Cage playing both good and bad guys,
I'll refer to them by their character names. Sean Archer (Travolta), is an antiterrorist
agent whose son was killed in a failed attempt on his life by terrorist Castor Troy
(Cage). Sean devotes his life to capturing him, at the expense of his wife and daughter's
well being. Finally, he manages in a hilarious shootout to nail Castor, placing him in a
coma. But all is not well.
Unfortunately for the city, Castor and his brother had previously engineered a plot to
bomb a heavily populated area. Castor's brother refuses to divulge the location of this
bomb despite numerous interrogation attempts. Finally, with no other options, Sean opts to
undertake some radical surgery that alters his physical appearance to make him the
spitting image of Castor. Thus disguised, he impersonates Castor and enters the prison
where his brother is being held. He fools Castor's brother into telling him the location,
but something is amiss...
Castor, meanwhile, has woken up from his coma and manages to undergo the same
reconstructive surgery, he disguising himself as Sean Archer. He kills everyone that knows
that the real Sean has gone undercover. This leaves Sean with no one to contact and no way
of escaping prison. Castor then proceeds to assume Sean's job and fatherly role. Sean in
the meantime, escapes from prison and must use Castor's identity to his advantage by using
his associates. Both men lead each other's lives, and it's a race to see who can kill the
There are many clever aspects to a plot such as this one. Both Travolta
and Cage get to play good guys and bad guys in the same film. They both also get an equal
share of on screen time. Very clever contract agents these actors must have...
A revolutionary scene in this film is one in which Woo stages an all out
brawl between FBI agents and thugs. In an almost self mocking manner, he mutes the gunplay
noise and adds the music "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". This emphasizes that
there is more to life than violence, and that peace and harmony should prevail. Most
importantly it conveys that Woo understands this notion. Brilliant. The only other movie
which was "revolutionary" in its depiction of action was a scene from the film Heat
in which a semi automatic gun battle was shown with no music or extraneous sound affects
at all. Only the actual sounds of gunfire and general chaos were left in. Think about
that. A 5 minute scene of continuous weapons fire without the typical action music.
Similar to an earlier film of his, Bullet in the Head, this movie is
relatively slow (if you can call it that) throughout the movie and then proceeds to become
fast paced and completely over the top at the finale. At the end of Bullet in the Head,
two characters are racing cars side by side shooting every weapon imaginable at one
another. An innocent car passes between them and it explodes due to the sheer volume of
ammunition it encounters. In Face/Off, Cage and Travolta are racing motor boats
side by side firing weapons at one another. An innocent Coast Guard boat get's in their
way, and it also explodes. The whole point here is that these two scenes have very little
to do with the plot except prove how over the top his action films can be. I mean really,
the "Bondesque" boat scene literally came out of nowhere, don't you think?
Another great feature of Woo's films are the trademark scenes that fans
have come to expect that Woo will mix and match in subsequent films. A key scene that
prevails throughout many of his films is the situation where two characters hold weapons
at one another's throats. This scene is so clearly showcased in his films that one cannot
help but laugh when it occurs, for it is the true mark of Woo.
Just how does Woo top all of the other action film wannabes? Take for
instance, the offerings from the (late) Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer filmography. The
Rock and Con Air both make attempts to capitalize on many trademarked Woo
scenes, even using Nicolas Cage to boot. But Woo tops them both.
Case in point: in The Rock, a key sequence at the end of the film has roughly
6 characters all pointing guns at one another in a Mexican standoff at point blank range.
They all begin firing and chaos breaks out. But this scene consists entirely of seasoned
military personnel. Woo on the other hand has a similar scene in a church towards the end
of the film, but instead has roughly 10 characters with guns at point blank range, 2 of
which are women! Chaos breaks out and Nicholas Cage not only has dual pistols, but his
arms are crossed and he manages to take out several thugs, all while doing
What else distinguishes Woo? Take a look at his camera angles and
framing. Even an untrained eye will notice that Woo uses a different perspective in his
shots and it comes across the screen. Take note of how carefully choreographed the
violence is, and the acrobatics that each actor engages in. It's almost as if you're
watching a ballet...with dual pistols! Finally, Woo is the only director who truly
understands the ultimate power and salvation that can be attained by using the pistol of
choice- the Beretta 92FS. In almost all cases, the characters with these weapons succeed
in their objectives...
At long last, a director has bridged the gap between over the top action
and an interesting plot line. As you watch other so called action films, take a moment to
consider if they even bring to your attention the poetic nature of dual pistols and
acrobatic gunplay. The hypnotic sounds of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", will
echo through my mind during other DA films for a long time to come. I will shed many tears
- of laughter.
|Hope You Enjoyed the Flight
|Castor tosses out an FBI agent posing as a stewardess from
the getaway plane. Guess she ran out of peanuts.
|Airline Food is Aweful
|Castor leaps out of the plane in the hanger with dual
pistols and manages to take down at least one FBI agent while airborne. Note the key
elements - he has dual pistols, is airborne, is flying sideways, and maintains accuracy.
|Woo"ian" Stand Off
|Castor and Sean face each other with pistols pointing at
one another's face, each ready to kill one another with only a single round chambered. The
simple addition of this trademark scene requires all Woo purists to scream in laughter.
|Castor accidentally steps into the exhaust of a jet engine
and his body is thrown through a wind tunnel several hundred feet. Notice that his body
remains perfectly vertical while it is thrown horizontally parallel to the ground, with
all of his limbs flailing frantically. This BIM is the stuff that dreams are made of.
|Milk Does a Body Good
|Sean throws a jug of acid towards some prison guards and
shoots the container in mid air. It explodes and the guards both ignite into flames
simultaneously. Naturally, their cries of "Why Me?" are drowned out by DA
laughter, especially as this is a trademark Woo scene.
|Sean quickly dodges a grenade that is thrown through the
window of the room he's hiding in. The hilarious element is that it breaks up a wonderful
family conversation and tearful "reunion", a perfect example of SRH.
|Bar Room Brawl
|This colossal fight scene with Sean and Castors cohorts
with the FBI has so many critical DA elements. Agents swing on ropes bursting into
apartments, bodies are thrown through glass walls, dual pistols are used by diving bad
guys, prostitutes exclaiming "Why Me?", etc. In otherwords, a brilliant scene.
|Somewhere Over the Rainbow
|A scene of groundbreaking proportions. During the huge gun
battle between Sean, Dietrich, Sasha and FBI agents, Woo overlays all sound effects with
the gentle music that Sasha's son is listening to to avoid hearing the violent gunplay. In
spite of all this chaos and violence, Woo conveys the most hilarious message - "Can't
we all just get along?". Considering how quiet the scene was, my SDSPL laughter
completely horrified the entire theater...
|Sean, Castor, and virtually everyone left in the film all
find themselves in a Mexican standoff in the middle of a church. Woo goes over the top as
there are at least 10 characters pointing pistols at one another, some with dual pistols.
Only Woo can take this concept to the extreme so well...
|Through the Looking Glass
|Sean and Castor find themselves back to back separated by
a mirror and exchange thoughts. In the trademark Woo fashion, each turns around and opens
fire at point blank range. The difference though is that each character performs numerous
aerial maneuvers and body rolls to dodge each others hailstorm of bullets.
|SeaWorld Circus Show
|Sean and Castor fight with one another in Scarab
motorboats, and Sean leaps from one onto the other. He later finds himself dangling over
the side of the boat (as opposed to the typical rear of the boat), and his body
is dragged around like a ragdoll. Maybe they were auditioning for parts in a fun park
|Rodeo Boat Toss
|Sean and Castor are riding in a speedboat as it runs
aground. Their bodies are tossed a good 50 feet high, 100 feet in distance as if they were
thrown from a bull. Their flailing bodies are shown from many camera angles in slow
motion, which permits several breaths between bursts of laughter.
|Sean shoots Castor with a harpoon gun and pins his body to
the side of a ship. The subsequent shots of Castor's dead body twitching and spasming
brought about shocking levels of inappropriate laughter.