This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 1997
Rating: R (lots of rounds of ammunition and liberal use of the F-Bomb)
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Sometimes I know I’m getting old. Like when I say or think things like, “Don’t you miss 90s movies?” or “Don’t you miss the old-fashioned trailers from the 90s where they didn’t tell you the entire story and use all the best scenes from the movie in under a minute?” I remember seeing the Face/Off trailer in the movie theater and thinking oooh, that looks good! (The Internet wasn’t a big thing yet. We were all dialing up using CompuServe and AOL. So cute.) To put the release of this movie in a time and place—John Travolta was riding a huge wave of reemerging popularity after his career-changing performance in Pulp Fiction (a scene from which gave our blog its title). Travolta hadn’t made Battlefield Earth yet–which I think we can all agree sort of closed the door on the huge wave of reemerging popularity. Nicolas Cage had just made Leaving Las Vegas and The Rock (don’t even talk to me if you don’t like that movie), so Cage didn’t suck then either. Throw in John Woo as a director, and you have a movie that many action fans could not wait to see.
If you are not familiar with John Woo’s style of directing, let me break it down for you. You need shootouts—achingly choreographed where at least one (or more) or the characters have guns in both hands. You need sunglasses, trench coats, religious iconography (covert or overt), you need characters drawing their guns at the same time and pointing them at each others’ heads and slo-mo explosion sequences. But most of all, you need doves. Birds of all kinds are acceptable–but mostly doves. (Mission Impossible II, also directed by John Woo, is currently streaming on Netflix if you want to see EVEN MORE birds than are in Face/Off.)
There are people who don’t like John Woo’s trademark style. These are probably also people who have never earnestly shook their ass to a Top-40 hit. I know many of these people and I respect their opinions. But Face/Off is over-the-top fabulous 90s entertainment.
Castor Troy (Cage for about 20 minutes of the movie) kills Sean Archer’s (Travolta for about 20 minutes of the movie) son by accident. This results in Archer willing to do anything to catch Troy. The FBI catches the wily Troy in the first few minutes of the movie, but Troy is so badly injured he is in a permanent coma. He and his brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) have planted a bomb somewhere in Los Angeles. The only person Pollux trusts is his brother. The FBI has no idea where they’ve planted the bomb. So Archer, for the good of all of Los Angeles, agrees to take Troy’s identity. Now I am a good sport about suspending disbelief in movies and books. But the process that follows “making” the chubby taller Archer (Travolta) into the skinnier, receding hair-lined Troy (Cage) left me thinking, “Yeah, sure. We can’t give a woman who needs a breast-reduction one without leaving a scar, but this is possible.”
But now the movie viewer has Cage playing the good guy and Travolta playing the bad guy. Troy wakes up out of his coma (surprise!) and finds his face gone. He is understandably kind of pissed by this. He calls his henchman who kidnap the doctor who performed Archer’s transformation and force the doctor to Travolta-ize Troy . (Now why these henchman don’t then go tell Troy’s other friends that hey, if someone comes around wearing Troy’s face and acting like him, it’s not him… well this is a problem with the movie. Another problem is when Troy’s former girlfriend shows up to help “him” (nee Archer) she doesn’t question why he’s not shooting his enemy’s wife. But let’s just ignore all that, shall we?)
Because the minute Troy steps into Archer’s life and Archer steps into Troy’s life, the movie becomes more than the entertaining action flick it is. Troy finds himself disarming his own bomb, as well as protecting Archer’s daughter from date-rape. Archer finds himself with Troy’s friends who, while completely violent and f*cked-up on drugs, are also fiercely loyal to Troy and defend him literally to the death.
There are also some extremely hilarious lines in the movie. One of my favorites is when Archer’s wife Eve (Joan Allen) suspects that Archer isn’t really Archer and Troy (in Archer’s body) mutters, “Lies, deceit, mixed messages… this is turning into a real marriage.”
The ending sequence is a too long (was that speedboat chase REALLY needed?) but I enjoyed the cinematography and the religious iconography (with a nod to Woo’s famous movie The Killer), mirroring and balancing our Jungian dark and light, that composes much of the movie.
But just as a reminder, if you’ve never turned up a song you’d be semi-embarrassed to sing along with in front of your peers, this movie may not be for you.