Cinema

Video Watch - Face Off (1997)

Face/Off (1997)

Cast: John Travolta, Nicholas Cage, Joan Allen

Director: John Woo

Screenwriters: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary

Director of photography: Oliver Wood

Composer: John Powell

Price: Rs. 399

This is the first film that director John Woo had complete creative control in Hollywood and the result is an intelligent blockbuster packed with star charisma and breathtaking action sequences. The story is so outrageous that one can only giggle in admiration at the conviction the director and stars bring to the table.

So there is a good guy Sean Archer of the FBI who is on the heels of a very, very bad guy, freelance terrorist, Castor Troy. Archer has been obsessively following Troy for six years after Troy's accidentally kills Archer's young son.

When Archer gets a tip off that Troy's brother, Pollox, has hired a jet, he figures that Castor would also be on the plane. The FBI land up at the airstrip and there is an almighty bust up which leaves Castor in coma and Pollox in jail.

Before being blown away into coma, Castor tells Archer he is going to blow up L.A. While Archer has a date, he has no idea where the strike would be. Enter goofy science. Archer submits to a radical procedure that will enable him to swap faces with Castor. Not just faces but bodies and voices as well.

Archer in Castor's body goes to jail to find out the location of the bomb from Pollox and in the meantime Castor wakes up from his coma to find he is missing a face. Of course he gets his band of merry men to kidnap the doctor and fix Archer's face on his and then torches all evidence of the swap.

The rest of the film follows Castor and Archer in each other's bodies doing all sorts of manic mayhem. Apparently writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary thought of the story in the beginning of the Nineties and there were many pairings for the lead roles—from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas.

Watching the movie now, it is difficult to imagine anyone other than John Travolta and Nicholas Cage playing the parts of Archer and Castor. The real fun begins when the face swap has happened and to watch each actor act like the other is just too delicious.

While the original movie was set in the future, Woo chose to set in the present so as to concentrate on the psychological aspects of the film. Just like the other Hong Kong movie “Infernal Affairs” (2002) which questions the impact of living a double life, “Face/Off” in its quieter moments (they are few and far between) looks at the consequences of living another man's life. The film seems to suggest that wicked is more fun. Archer as Castor seems to be living the good life of drugs, sex and unbridled violence while Castor as Archer just goes about his wicked ways as everyone stands around staring goggle-eyed.

The dialogues are rocking. After the two have swapped faces Castor tells Archer, “I don't know what I hate wearing worse: your face or your body.” Or he tells Pollox, “Well, think about me. This nose. This hair. This ridiculous chin.” Har! Har! And then there is telling line when Castor and Archer meet after the swap and Castor says: “It's like looking in a mirror. Only... not.”

Woo brings his style Gun Fu which he made super popular in his Hong Kong films into the films and the action scenes have an irresistible poetic grace.

The slo mos, the pigeons flying into the frame, the shattering religious icons, the stand offs and the face offs are all there and the pay offs are incredibly satisfying.

There are all sorts of deconstructions about how Castor and Pollox are twins in Greek myth. The two brightest stars of the constellation Gemini, they fought the Trojan war — which explains the Troy in their names. Archer is Sagittarius in the constellation.

All this, however, hardly matters in the frenzy of flying bullets, knock out punches and exploding automobiles!

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 2:32:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Video-Watch-Face-Off-1997/article14696608.ece

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