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FACE/OFF
Blu-ray Edition

Film Review by Gordon Justesen
Technical Specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Alessandro Nivola
Director: John Woo
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 140 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2008

“I don’t know what I hate wearing worse, your face or your body. I mean, I enjoy boning your wife. But, well let’s face it, we both like it better the other way yes? So why don’t we just trade back?”

“You can’t give back what you’ve taken from me.”

“Oh, well..Plan B…LET’S JUST KILL EACH OTHER.”

Film ****

How many action movies can seriously be considered masterpieces? Not very many I can assure you, but then again, no other action movie, or any movie for that matter, can even compare to pulse-pounding brilliance of John Woo’s masterpiece, Face/Off. Here’s a movie that, alas, blends together a mind bending, original story, with some of the most eye-popping action sequences ever shot on film.

Woo’s credit as the master of action entertainment would be more than enough to attract this huge fan of his. But now add two of our greatest acting talents to the mix, and the result is nothing short of a pure milestone. Even at two hours and twenty minutes, it moves fast as a bullet, thrilling you at every minute and not at once does it even begin to play dull.

The actors I’m referring to are John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, who have both long been in my personal top five all time favorite actor list. Never would I have imagined that the two would be in a movie together, but from what I can tell, the script was too exciting to resist, and it gives both actors the opportunity to have fun with each other’s acting personas. Talk about a movie that offers more bang for your buck.

Travolta plays FBI agent Sean Archer, and Cage is the purely evil terrorist Castor Troy. The movie opens with Archer as a vengeful agent who’s obsessed with capturing Troy and putting him away for good. Six years prior to the opening of the movie, Troy attempted to kill Archer, and it resulted in the accidental murder of Archer’s young son.

Ever since then, Archer has put all of his concerns out of focus just so he could end Troy’s criminal career. The plot then really kicks into high gear as he tracks Troy at an airport plotting to escape, which leads to an exhilarating game of chicken between a hummer and a jet, then a jaw dropping shootout scene in an air hangar. Archer then succeeds in knocking Troy into a coma, thinking the six year chase has come to an end, except for one small factor….Troy and his team have planted a bomb somewhere in an anonymous location in downtown L.A.

How can Archer possibly locate the bomb and prevent it from taking out an entire city street? The agency presents him with an idea. Through supreme, state of the art surgery, Archer can assume the actual face of the now comatose Castor Troy, go undercover in prison where Troy’s brother (Allesandro Nivola) is being held, and gain information from him about the location.

At first, Archer has extreme doubts about the plan, especially when it means assuming the face of the man who killed his son. But he soon agrees to the assignment, and he is then soon transformed into Castor Troy himself. Eventually, Archer/Troy is given the info on the bomb from the brother.

Unfortunately, at this point, the real Castor Troy awakes from his coma, shocked to find that he has no face, but soon hatches a vicious plan: hijack the face of Archer, destroying the police lab and all evidence that proves who Archer really is. This is followed by a pure bravura scene where the terrorist, now looking like the FBI man, goes to visit the undercover Archer in prison to inform him on what his damaging future state is.

Never before has it been difficult for me to construct a plot summary, but when you’re watching the movie itself, it’s very much easier to understand. Once the face-swapping has taken place, not only are the two main characters different people, but Travolta and Cage add a little more excitement to it by copying off one another’s acting style, which makes it all the more convincing. Cage, who is known for his at times smooth, raspy dialect, is captured brilliantly once Travolta is seen playing the villain, and Cage pulls off in playing off Travolta’s acting style as well.

The big star, though, of Face/Off are the action sequences, which rank as the best action scenes of all time. The opening shootout scene in the air hangar is a wow of an intro, complete with Woo’s trademark use of two fisted gunplay and over-the-top gravity-defying stunt work. Another pivotal scene in a drug house has the disguised agent and terrorist posed on opposite ends of a double-sided mirror, in which they soon turn around aiming their guns at the mirror which takes the time to illustrate who the other guy is really shooting at.

One thing I totally admired is that Woo stages them so brilliantly, such as build up to the climax, which has Troy and Archer meeting up at a beachside church. His use of slow motion during this buildup adds twice as much tension, illustrating that a big showdown is about to take place, and boy does it ever. A shootout takes place in the church, leading up to pulse-pounding motorboat chase, which crash into piers as well as each other, and it contains more knockout stunt work.

I should also make mention of the one of a kind screenplay courtesy of Mike Werb and Michael Colleary. They supplied all of the perfect ingredients to make the perfect entertainment package. There’s the amazing originality of the plot, the amazing action set pieces, and some of the coolest dialogue that Travolta and Cage have ever been given, which for both actors is really saying something

I seriously doubt that we will see another action movie as great as Face/Off. I think it’d be hard for even John Woo to attempt to top it. A original plot along with some of the most invigorating, jaw dropping use of action ever, as well as two of the strongest acting talents you could ever hope to have in the same movie add up to create what I consider to be the greatest action movie of the 1990s, as well as one of the greatest movies ever made in the genre.

Video ****

I haven't been reviewing Blu-ray discs for very long, but I have to say, so far Face/Off is an apex.  This is the best looking disc I've yet seen!  The anamorphic transfer is stunning, with plenty of detail, strong coloring, and with the disc's storage capability, it handles the multiple action sequences with startling clarity and no compression evident. 

Audio ****

The movie sounds better than ever on Blu-ray...in fact, this may also be a new high, in that it's by far the most dynamic disc I've heard.  You have a choice of Dolby Digital or DTS extended mixes, but the overall power of the sound is nearly overwhelming.  The action keeps all channels in full use and with incredible range of volume, but the terrific music score and the spoken words ring through the chaos with clarity.  All in all, this is a perfect disc to grab in order to demonstrate your home theatre capabilities.

Features ****

No need for two discs with Blu-ray, so this edition contains everything you need without having to stop and swap for the second DVD!

There are two commentary tracks; the first is with director John Woo and screenwriters Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, the second is a writers-only commentary with Werb and Colleary. Both tracks are enjoyable and most informative about the making of the movie.  There are also two well-handled documentaries. The first is “The Light and the Dark: The making of Face/Off”, the second is titled “John Woo: A Life in Pictures”. Lastly, there is the terrific Theatrical Trailer for the movie, plus seven deleted scenes with optional commentary.  And all of the features have been remastered for high definition...a nice plus!

Summary:

If you want a movie guaranteed to boost up your adrenaline, Face/Off is the ultimate ticket in that regard. A brilliant film that ultimately proves that action and plot can blend together. This new Blu-ray edition release is THE edition to own!

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