Written by Mike Werb & Michael Colleary. Directed by John Woo. A tale of justice, switched identities, and revenge. Running time 2 hours 18 minutes.
Sean Archer (John Travolta) is a secret ops FBI agent who’s sole purpose is to find his arch nemesis Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) and bring him to justice for killing Archer’s son as well as terrorizing the city with bombs. Castor Troy has managed to plant a huge bomb in Los Angeles set to go off in a matter of days which would create mass destruction. Archer catches up to Troy and they duke it out in a explosive and spectacular action film kind of way. The FBI captures Troy’s brother Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola), the one who designed and built the bomb, but he doesn’t give up the details they need. Castor appears to have been killed in the fisticuffs but is kept alive by the super secret level of the FBI for special plan to gain information and save the city. Meanwhile, Archer’s marriage to Eve Archer (Joan Allen) hangs on by a thread since their son Michael was murdered by Castor Troy years ago. They haven’t been intimate in months, they rarely see each other, and their daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain) can’t decide what emo, punk rock, weirdo chick she wants to be as her way of coping with the loss.
The super secret FBI team leader, Hollis Miller (CCH Pounder) and Dr. Malcom Walsh (Colm Feore) the head surgeon for a secret FBI hospital, convince the only way for Archer to get details about the bomb and where it’s set is to take on Castor Troy’s face, go to the secret prison where Pollux Troy is being held, and pretend to be Castor to get the info from Pollux. Archer agrees to do it and undergoes a face swap plastic surgery with Castor who is being kept alive by machines in the secret hospital. Once Archer becomes Castor, he struggles with seeing his enemy’s face but learns to adapt in prison by beating up a prisoner and acting wacky like Castor would. He learns of the location but before he can get out of prison, he gets a visitor…While Archer has been impersonating Castor in prison, the real Castor wakes up to find his face gone and he’s slightly pissed. He gets his henchmen to retrieve the doctor who puts Archer’s face on him giving Castor as Archer access to Archer’s home life and FBI team which he of course exploits to the fullest by sleeping with Eve and teaching Jamie how to use a switchblade for protection. He also makes changes within his FBI team and plan of action which everyone at work seems to like.
Castor/Archer goes to visit Archer/Castor and rubs in his new glory of being in charge by releasing his brother from the prison, leaving Archer/Castor there to rot. Archer/Castor determined to save the city and family, manages to find a way to escape this super secret prison. Archer/Castor gets home and then has to convince Eve who he really is. Meanwhile, Castor/Archer decides to use “finding and defusing the bomb” as a way to get accolades for “saving” the city which he does but not before “killing” his boss (heart attack) and wiping out all of his criminal enemies in town becoming the “hero”. Castor and Archer “face off” at Sasha (Gina Gershon) Castor’s girlfriend’s apartment and a lot of bullets fly and people get killed but not before it’s revealed Castor has a son, too…Archer/Castor gets away while Eve realizes Archer/Castor has told her the truth and she was actually sleeping with the man who killed her son. Archer/Castor and Eve hatch a plot to catch Castor/Archer at the FBI boss’ funeral. Some crazy things happen, a final showdown, and everything is fine again in river city, I mean Los Angeles. Plus, Castor’s son now gets to be raised by Archer’s family…awww.
What I Liked
The ridiculousness of the plot. Everything is super secret. The special ops FBI team Archer leads, the hospital with the secret face swapping technology, and the prison in the middle of nowhere. The entire idea of lasering off someone’s face and transplanting it “temporarily”…it’s awesome. Of course, it’s crazy and far-fetched. That’s why it works. Also, John Travolta playing Nicolas Cage? What? This is where Travolta shines. He starts off so stiff but then when he becomes Castor, he really has fun. He’s creepy, slimy, and loose. Nicolas Cage as Archer is also a bit of stretch for Cage and he hits it on the head as well. That level of fear and desperation he has once he becomes Archer. That’s when things get interesting.
I LOVE how NO ONE realizes something is majorly wrong here. Eve “senses” something different about her husband who, out of nowhere, decides to be super romantic and into her after ignoring her the last two months, but doesn’t question it. When Castor/Archer takes Jamie’s cigarettes and teaches her to use a switchblade, Jamie just thinks her dad has become cool overnight and doesn’t question it. Archer’s WHOLE FBI team doesn’t seem to care that Archer has made a complete personality 180 and actually relish in the laid back tactics. Meanwhile, every single criminal in the prison doesn’t seem to trust Archer/Castor. They KNOW something’s not right and they test him every chance they get. You can’t con a con as they say…
Of course, the explosions, the remote secret locations, and the impossible scenarios make for a great cheesy action film. John Woo does some his best work here using his usual tricks: the doves, the ocean, the Beretta guns in both hands, and characters head to head with guns facing each other while talking.
What I Wished Was Better
More Gina Gershon. Maybe she didn’t have to die and Sasha and her kid Adam could’ve been introduced to Eve and Jamie and…well, I know that’s not quite the ending people wanted; but Sasha states in the apartment scene (before it gets shot to bits) about guns being bad. Then moments later, she picks up a machine gun type weapon and starts shooting. It’s out of her character. She dies leaving Adam with Archer/Castor. Archer/Castor already tells her she doesn’t have to worry about losing her son to the State, so why killer her off?
Face/Off is a classic 90s action film with a twist. Fun to watch and roll your eyes at this silly plot and impossible scenario. Available on Amazon. Watch the trailer below:
Fun facts: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were originally slated for the film but director John Woo thought Travolta and Cage would play better in the roles. Woo also had Joan Allen as his first choice to play Eve and had to fight for her as the studio wanted someone younger…