47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
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John Woo, USA 1997, 138 mins
Described by some as "the best action movie ever made", Face/Off is sure not to disappoint. The plot is an exercise in stretching credibility, and functions only as a framework for the writers to string together dozens of spectacular (but still preposterous) action sequences. John Travolta plays Sean Archer, the head of an anti-terrorism agency. Nicolas Cage plays Castor Troy, his psychotic arch-nemesis, who killed Archer's son. After years of investigation, Archer finally captures Troy, putting him in a coma, but not before discovering that Troy and his brother have planted a giant bomb somewhere in L.A.. Archer is forced to neglect his family for one more assignment, swapping faces with the vegetating Troy and (now played by Cage) going undercover in prison. He tries to worm the bomb's location out of Troy's sibling - but the real Troy miraculously wakes up, forces the surgeons to give him Archer's face and (now played by Travolta) destroys all evidence of the operations.
The themes of the film are bizarrely unbalanced - the writers satisfyingly explore the disastrous consequences of becoming that which you hate most, but glaze over some incredibly illogical plotting. Still, the smart script which seems a cross between The Fugitive, The Man in the Iron Mask and Commando, is suitably gritty, and while settling for a saccharine sweet ending, does provide some uncomfortable and dark moments on the way.
Travolta and Cage are perfectly cast, turning in fine performances and proving themselves to be among the best action film stars. Cage is suitably tragic as the haunted and isolated Archer, while Travolta makes a classy, smooth and downright evil villain.
But most importantly, this is a John Woo film. The Hong Kong director, who's previous two Hollywood efforts, Hard Target and Broken Arrow had been seriously below par, finally gets the mix right third time lucky. Woo opens the film as spectacularly as most climaxes, and cranks the action harder each time. The famous "balletic" gun fights are in abundance, and since this is Woo, everyone has two guns blazing at once. The visuals are often poetic, with Woo having mastered the use of slow-motion, a technique too often abused today. The overall impression is of an Americanised half-brother of the Hong Kong Bullet Fests, boding well for things to come from the Land of Woo.
EUFS Programme 1998-99