“Face/off”. Really it is very difficult to find now a scenario, which can be original- there are too many films and too many ideas – it is difficult to find something special to focus attention of spectator, so the main “plus” of “Face Off” is unusual plot. Nicolas Cage plays super terrorist, and Travolta – super policeman, who are due to unusual circumstances and with help of fantastic technologies managed to exchange their faces.
“Face/Off” is a classical example of harsh thriller which has sense. The genre of thriller itself hardly can claim to serious comprehension, but still, as far in life we need not only thoughts but adrenalin, thrillers are quite indispensable in our life – as we need coffee in the morning. And, if you want to charge your body in such a way, you should see the examples of thrillers which are presented by producer John Woo. This man already became a part of history in cinema. He have shown himself in Hong Kong, where everything is made by one example and where they don’t need any fantasy from producer, but only ability to form up the actors in some definite way and to show professional fighters instead of them when necessary. John Woo conquered Hong Kong, became there a person number one and moved to Hollywood. Here he managed to show himself. His “Broken Arrow” and “Hard score” were in great demand and were very successful, what confirmed that his thrillers really have some specialty. Although it is very difficult to say at first glance what is the reason of such popularity and specialty. Also you can find a lot of citing from popular films, which already had great success (for example, in his film “Face/Off” such citing is “Mexican duel”, where a whole multitude of actors took part). “Mexican duel” is scene, where heroes threaten with guns, and instead of shooting, speak a lot until somebody will not loose his tempo. Very similar “Mexican duel” takes place also in “Criminal Reading”, and the same actor there plays main part – John Travolta.
Travolta plays in thriller “Face/Off” an FBI agent Shone Archer, whose son was killed by terrorist Castor Troy. Troy kills his son by mistake, but it doesn’t matter. The father is disconsolate and doesn’t spare himself and makes everything to find the killer. Finally, he manages to reach success – he catches the enemy and also his brother, Pollux (Castor and Pollux – it is a rich allusion in mythology, although almost without any reason). They take out a diskette from Pollux from where FBI finds out that two brothers- terrorists put an explosive mechanism in one of the buildings in New York, with poisoning substance, probably with V-gases. In case this mechanism will explode, the history of New York can be considered finished. So, to prevent the dreadful catastrophe Travolta decides to make an unusual trick: with the help of computer plastic surgery they take his face off and change into face of Castor Troy, and then after they put him into the same prison cell, where Pollux sits, in order to find out, where is the bomb. But Castor, this scoundrel, doesn’t want to give up and he forces the surgeons to place the face of Archer instead of his taken face. So, because the operation is top-secret, he kills everybody, who have information about it and becomes for other people full-fledged FBI agent – also for wife and daughter of Archer.
John Woo manages to achieve epic mood, almost impossible for thriller genre. Thanks to hardly imaginable trick with changing faces, he discovers possibility to enrich the thriller psychologically, and this gives opportunity to mix genres. Still, producer doesn’t allow himself to escape canons – the main attention is focused on staging of fighting, shooting and pursuit. All this is made at the highest level of producer’s talent. He didn’t forget about any stereotype: fly-away tails of black cloak in the slow action; the plane crashes to the storage house and explodes (in slow shooting); falling lighter, which caused big fire (in slow motion); back counting for the explosive mechanism, which stops at figure “0.00”; there is silly and fat prisoner Dubov; there is a moment of wild shooting, while children song is playing and you don’t hear sound of shootings. It means, all effects were used in the film.
Another moment is producer’s fantasy, which allows solving standard situations in non-standard way (for example, when helicopter neutralizes airplane, breaking by itself an elevator. Also splendid actor work is valuable here – both actors Travolta and Cage played greatly.
John Woo can be called a producer-contemplator. He likes in the very critical moment of film to slow down the action and to show how beautiful are moon lights at flying arrow-heads or how beautiful is the rotating bullet, rushing into the heart of main hero. All is transient. For the bullet only moment of flight exists, before – laying in cartridge clip it wasn’t alive, although it existed. And after this – flattening into vertebral column – it will not live any more. Although it will not stop to exist…
A man between his birth and death lives a long life, but which moments of his life he lives? What can be considered for him the moments of real life except of moments of birth and death?
In the film “Face/Off” John Woo forced his heroes to live a real life, to live in the right way, properly. Both of them died and both of them were born- with new faces. Both of them started a new life, and this life was bright and fast. Both of them made a greatest action – they entered a skin of their bitterest enemy and became this enemy, didn’t stopping to be themselves. Both of them shoot their own image in the mirror.
Doctor Jackile and Mister Hide were from the very beginning one person, who divided into antagonistic components. It was an analysis. Shone Archer and Castor Troy from the very beginning were antagonistic personalities but became the one whole. It was a synthesis. It was a form of creative… no… actually it was a form of creation.
The thriller is very interesting and exciting. I understood what was good in John’s Woo work: because all these tricks which were used in “Mission Impossible II”, seemed to be wearisome and strained; here these moments were exactly to the point and made good impression. The plot was more interesting and original than a lot of thrillers of this kind have. You have here thriller, drama, tragedy, action, spirited plot and nice fights with special effects; psychological tricks and actors’ talent.
Cage and Travolta- they both played good in this film. They were extremely good, I should say. It is interesting, but some critics write that “Travolta evidently played worse than Cage”, and others with the same assurance declare that “Cage evidently played worse than Travolta”. The main idea of the film is that each of the actors one part of the film plays one hero, and other part- the very different hero- the other one. As for me, both actors played greatly and managed to play as producer wanted to show. Although personally I like play of Nicolas Cage more.
In American film distribution only the film collected 112 million dollars (having a budget of 80 millions). Although “Face/Off” wasn’t appreciated much, but this type of thrillers are usually not praised a lot. Besides, American Academy of cinema fantastic awarded it by Saturn Award.
I want to believe that this thriller will be appreciated not only because of scenario or actors, but also thanks to great work or producer and his personality. In the beginning of 90ies producer from Hong Kong John Woo entered selected “circle” of elite. Probably, he is the only one producer who works in genre of action, taking into account the fact that people in Europe dedicated him serious cultural researches. Some of critics wrote that Woo was exhausted in genre of thriller; that he marked its limits. His films “Hired assassin” and “Hard Boiled” were so bloody, esthetic, and amorally beautiful and at the same time religious moralistic that hardly any other producer can reach more. Still, his film “Face/Off” confirms that he has more strength and talent than critics can see.
Don’t see this film as a thriller only. It is existential philosophical drama. Here everything has a meaning – allusion at myth about Castor and Pollux, and the fact that half a film hero of Travolta speaks by voice of Nicolas Cage and vice versa. Each death (and there are a lot of deaths in this film), here has meaning of offering, sacrifice; each action of heroes – their step in great game of chess, the final of which will not be a victory of one of the sides, but reaching a balance, which will mean, besides other meanings, that life for hero finished… and simple existing started… again…