Face/Off is a monumentally stupid movie. It followed another John Woo and John Travolta monumentally stupid movie, Broken Arrow. At least Broken Arrow stuck to the basics to set up its action. Face/Off is famous for the idiotic concept of face swapping, admittedly original yet completely absurd.
Travolta and Nicolas Cage face off (heh) without any bad puns pertaining to the title as detective and terrorist respectively. A personal vendetta is the fuel for every overdone, spark-filled battle to follow. Typical John Woo slow motion makes even the simple task of handing over some money stylish, and when used with bullets flying, you’ll rarely forget any of the camera angles.
Cage becomes Sean Archer who was initially Travolta’s character while Travolta takes on the role of flamboyant psychopath Castor Troy. It sounds confusing but it is not. This is hardly high cinema. It’s obvious the two leads are having a blast playing dual roles, though Cage has a tougher transformation to make. Travolta never gets the chance to go all out as his co-star does.
Face/Off is needlessly long at 140 minutes. Stupid action movies are bearable whey they jump in guns blazing, but when you cross the 100-minute mark, you’ve lost a segment of the audience. It takes an hour before things pick up past the opening shooting gallery as the exposition takes over to try and legitimize this outrageous concept.
Even if you can buy into the face swapping, it is utterly impossible to buy into the family aspects. Archer’s family hardly questions their radically altered father and husband. They simply accept that his demeanor has changed and go along with it. The same goes for his co-workers. They must like these movies too.
A few missed opportunities are also disappointing. With Travolta playing Archer, he’s forced to visit Archer’s dead son whom he accidentally killed in the opening scene. Here Woo has potential to generate something worthwhile, a legitimate emotional subplot. It’s dropped.
Of course, not many people put this disc in to cry. This is a movie about killing hundreds of faceless characters who are in the midst of a personal vendetta taken to ridiculous levels. Who has time for stuff like dead children?
The final boat chase, loaded with admittedly incredible stunt work, pyrotechnics, and excellent editing (though stuntmen are obvious at times), keeps the thrills high, matching the earlier scene with the airliner and helicopter. A third indoor shootout, which brings another Woo trademark of a dialogue-driven stare-down between the main characters, is also filled with destruction from every angle.
Those three sequences make Face/Off memorable in terms of its ability to blow things up. However, there is far more potential in the concept than is realized, as it is wasted on two people who want to do nothing more than kill everyone in their path for their own selfish reasons. Classy.
Paramount reuses the terrible HD DVD encode for this Blu-ray release. DNR has been heavily applied, causing a significant amount of lost detail, smearing, and plastic flesh tones. Close-ups do show the usual round of facial textures, although it is rather obviously over processed, unnaturally soft, and hardly film like.
Despite the grain being removed, source damage still comes through. Edge enhancement is another regular problem. Contrast is strong without blooming, and black levels are fine. Color is saturated if adversely affected by the digital manipulation. This is not the worst case of tampering you’ll see (40 Year Old Virgin holds that distinction), but it is still unacceptable.
Audio fanatics will be distraught that Paramount has left out an uncompressed audio track, merely copying the HD DVD spec. While it is hard to imagine anyone disliking this DTS 6.1 track (Dolby 5.1 EX is also available), it lacks the added fidelity of the usual uncompressed mixes, particularly in the low end.
Rear speakers are not only active; they’re loaded with separation when the bullets begin to fly. Explosions can rattle even the most solid foundation, although the bass is not perfectly clean. Minor gunshots bring a decent shot of bass along with them. This is a lively track, hopefully one that will be treated properly in the future.
Two commentaries lead the extras, now contained on one disc. John Woo joins writers Mark Werb and Michael Colleary on the first, while the writers handle their own separate track. Seven deleted scenes run around eight minutes, including an alternate ending that was wisely cut.
The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off is a one hour documentary covering all aspects of the film. Shot entirely in HD, this is an exhaustive look at the film, with little padding.
John Woo: A Life in Pictures is a 26-minute look at the director’s life as he tells it through an interview. Others who worked on Face/Off also have a few minutes to speak about him and his style. A classic trailer for the movie is the final piece to this solid extras presentation.