Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"Cheerful, bullet-strewn entertainment."

John Woo's US breakthrough is cheerful, bullet-strewn entertainment, with wit, guile and ferocious sustained action sequences. Signing up two of Hollywood's best known faces, and letting them loose as villains and repressed heroes, with a cheerful domestic switcheroo plot, pays off more often than it really should.

Bookending his film with stunning set-pieces with government agent Sean Archer chasing maniacal criminal mastermind Castor Troy. Troy murdered Archer's son years ago, and has been hunting him ever since. The capture is successful, but the unconscious Troy has left a bomb in the city, and since only Castor and his brother Pollux knows it's location, Archer is left with little alternative but to go undercover - as Troy himself. A revolutionary treatment allows the pair to swap faces, but disaster strikes shortly thereafter, leaving Archer with Troy's face, and vice-versa.

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It's this rather ingenious plot-device that inspires the rest of the truly silly plot shenanigans, including a prison that uses magnetic boots to keep the prisoners under lock and key. But this doesn't really matter, aside from when it feels like it's padding out the running time. Cage and Travolta work hard to keep the illusion complete, with the confused, exhausted and self-loathing Archer in Troy's visage, and Travolta's Troy as Archer discovering just how much power he can unleash on his criminal competitors in sequences of gloriously extended gunplay.

And of course, the action scenes are nearly faultless, and lengthy just shy of the point of exhaustion without annoyance. The opening scene where Travolta squares off against a jet leads into a magnficent plane-crash and a barriage of double-handed shooting before theprotagonists duel. And again, the climactic 15 minute chase/gunfight ups the ante with a canonoical - I have yet to see its like filmed better - speedboat chase. This is where Woo cuts loose, forgetting his supposed limitations and delivers sequences of startling ingenuity and craft.

Face/Off is a better film than John Woo's other American movies, largely because his control of the film is absolute, from the stylised silliness, to the strangely philosophical interludes, Woo's style and signature is written through the film like a stick of rock. Not emasculated by star power or bean-counters as it is in the subsequent films. Mission Impossible: II is a thoroughly entertaining exercise in silly action movie meets Hitchcock, but it's incomparable since Cruise inadvertently dilutes Woo's flair.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2007
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Face/Off packshot
A government agent chases a criminal mastermind.
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Director: John Woo

Writer: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary

Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Harve Presnell, Colm Feore, John Carroll Lynch, CCH Pounder

Year: 1997

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


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