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Last updated
December 04, 2002
12:35:24 AM
Godzilla
Face/Off
The Lost World
Volcano

 

Face/Off

Classification: Rated R (For intense sequences of strong violence, and for strong language.)
 
Directed by: John Woo
Written by: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Sound Mix: DTS
Running Time: 138 minutes
 
Cast:
John Travolta - Sean Archer
Nicolas Cage- Castor Troy
Joan Allen - Eve Archer
Alessandro Nivola - Pollux Troy
Gina Gershon - Sasha Hassler
Dominique Swain - Jamie Archer
Nick Cassavetes - Dietrich Hassler
Double Action Rating Conventional Rating Laughter Utilization (%) BIM Rating (1-10) Antic Level Buffer Zone (1-10)
100 9 ADPC 10

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 other first.

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 gratuitous flips.

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.

                                         drkpitt

Bookmarked Scenes:

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. Magnificent...
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.
Exhaustive BIM
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.
Fumigator Express
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...
Pistol Potpurri
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 watershow...
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.
Harpoon Boogie
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.

*Special Notes:

One of the wonder's of the new cinema multiplexes is that a plethora of films are readily available for viewing even after you have finished your primary movie. On two occasions now, after finishing a film lacking in DA content, my viewing party has crept into theaters still playing the last 15 minutes of Face/Off. I have thus seen the ending of this film 3 times. The third was the most hilarious in terms of audience response.

Along with my trusty DA partner and buffer zone party, we crept into a completely silent theater just after the shootout in the church. Our buffer zone detached from us and sat at the rear of the theater, and my DA partner and I moved to the front rightmost seats. We proceeded to scream in laughter, breaking the silence of the audience. We found it so hilarious that they were so serious during the film while ridiculously funny antics were taking place onscreen. No doubt there were many horrified people but some of them even began to chuckle. After the bookmarked scene "Rodeo Boat Toss", we made a beeline for the exit.

I looked back as we left and I saw at least the first 5 rows of theatergoers all staring at us with wide open eyes and flabbergasted looks. Some of them were even laughing. Mission accomplished.

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