One thing that most of us take for granted is our self image. When we look into the mirror every morning we see a familiar face staring back. Unless you have some brain damage this is how life goes on; we see the face we know is ours. The John Woo film, ‘Face/Off’ is a crime thriller with a novel twist. Suppose the technology existed to do face transplants. Your face could be removed and replaced with that of another person. When the film was made in 1997 the concept of transplanting a person’s face was nothing more than science fiction. Something to think about while watching this film is the fact that it is becoming a reality. In 2005 a woman in France had her mauled face removed and replaced with a donor face. Paramount has released a new two disc version of this film as part of their ‘Special Collector’s Edition’ series. I haven’t seen this film in a few years so watching again after the news of the operation in France put a whole new spin on it. Although this movie is slightly less in the realm of Sci-Fi it remains one of the most exciting, action pack flicks of the nineties. The combination of perfect direction, astounding acting and a well crafted script makes this a new classic of the genre. If you are looking for a pulse pounding film look no further than this one. Now, thanks to Paramount there is a newly re-mastered version. Many may wonder why repurchase this film. Simply put this done the way it should have been in the first place. The original DVD release was back in 1998, just a short while after the technology began to take hold. Back then ‘interactive menu’ was listed as an extra. It was great news when I heard that this was part of the Paramount collector series. I’ve reviewed many installments of this series and every one of them was incredible. It may have taken a decade to get this film properly to your home theater but here it is.
Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) is one of the most dangerous men alive. He works as a freelance terrorist and for a price there is pretty much nothing he is unwilling to do. Five ears ago while tying to murder and FBI agent, Sean Archer (John Travolta) Troy finds the job went wrong. The bullet went right through Archer and killed his son. When the FBI obtains information that Troy’s brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) is hiring a plane in Los Angles Archer is certain that his most wanted brother will be with him. Archer is pleased that his nemesis is there and as the plane is taking off a battle begins. Castor crashes the plane into the hanger and is seriously injured; in a comma. Pollux is apprehended and sent to jail. The FBI learns the brothers were in on a huge terrorist plot that would kill millions. The only possible way to get any hard intelligence is to get Pollux to talk. The only problem is Pollux only trusts his unconscious brother. The plan is to use advanced technology to replace Archer’s face with that of Pollux. This is not going to be an really great ‘Mission Impossible’ latex job, they are going to take Castor’s actual face and transplant it to Archer. When the operation is over they send Archer as Castor into the same prison as Pollux. Meanwhile, back at the secret government lab the real Castor wakes up. He forces the scientist to give Archer’s face to him. Castor, now with the FBI agent’s face kills every one there. They just happen to also be the only ones that know that the Castor in prison is really Archer. Archer as Castor is on the run with everyone thinking his is a wanted murdered. Castor is now living Archer’s life much to the confusion of his wife, Eve (Joan Allen) and their rebellious teenaged daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain). The action continues leading to one of the most exciting chases ever with the ultimate face off (pun intended) between the adversaries. Each man must fight for his life looking at his own face.
By the time this film was made director John Woo was already a legend in Hong Kong. His unique style influenced directors both there in here in the States. His previous action flick made for the States, Broken Arrow also featured John Travolta but had no where the success that Face/Off enjoyed. All of the famous John Woo trademark shots are here. You have white pigeons flying away from the cascade of bullets. There is the required Woo scene of a man flinging himself across the room, two .45 guns blazing. One of the other Woo style shots has his hero and villain talking with their backs to each other. Considering the particular plot device here it takes on a whole new meaning. There is one thing that Woo knows better than most directors of the genre; he provides everything the audience expects and more. His command of the camera is more than extremely good; it is nothing less than artistic. There is a sense of flow to the action and many stunts that will hold your complete attention. Even the expository scenes are better here than most American action oriented directors can dream about. There is a sense of humor that pervades the flick that keeps it from becoming tiresome, a typical problems of many members of the genre. Even the technology is handled so well that it is easy to suspend believe. This suspension is necessary so you don’t plague your mind with little details like the hour long recovery time from major experimental surgery.
This is not only a great example of an expert director it is a perfect showcase for the two lead actors. Both men have made a career that included a wide range of films including action. John Travolta is one of the most versatile actors of his generation. He is equally at ease playing a hit man, a dancer or a mother in Baltimore. Few actors have the physical and emotional range as does Travolta. Here he gets to play another actor in the same physical body. In interviews at the time of the theatrical release Travolta stated that getting the body language for Cage right was the biggest challenge of the film. He had to make the audience recognize his co-star without making the performance into a parody of Cage. The same is true for Nicolas Cage. He is an actor who can not be type cast. Every role is something different and exciting to watch. He also captures the essence of Travolta’s movements with skill.
Paramount takes the release of something called ‘Special Collector’s Edition’ seriously. Other studios slap a little, quickly made featurette on a disc, give it a shiny new package and a new UPC and sends it off to the retailers. This is not the case with Paramount. They respect the people who buy their DVDs. This film has never looked better. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is bright, clear and everything you want in a picture. No detail is hidden and no flaws are detectable. The audio has been redone from the Dolby 5.1 present in the 1998 DVD release. Now you can choose between DTS 6.1 and Dolby EX 5.1 sound. The sound stage is full and magnificent. There is a depth here that was not present in the original release. When something blows up it is a visceral experience. As for the extras this is where this series of Collectors releases shine. There is a commentary track with John Woo and two of the writers, Mike Werb and Michael Colleary. Among the seven deleted scenes is an alternative ending for the film. These deleted scenes also come with an optional commentary track that details they reason they were not included in the final edit. The required making of featurette is a complete consideration of all the technical work that went into pulling off a film of this scope. There is also a retrospective on the career of John Woo. If you enjoy this film you owe it to yourself to get this release, even if you have the first DVD.