STUDIO: Paramount Home Video
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
• Commentary by John Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary
• Commentary by writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary
The Light and the Dark: The Making of Face/Off
John Woo: A Life in Pictures
• Deleted scenes including alternate ending
• Original theatrical trailer

The Pitch

Travolta is Cage, Cage is Travolta: which either means Scientology has a new recruit or Elvis has a new fanatic.

The Humans

John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Allesandro Nivola, Gina gershon, Nick Cassavetes, CCH Pounder.

A scene from the upcoming Confessions of an Really Dangerous Mind: The Young Bob Barker Story

The Nutshell

In order to stop the bomb of infamous terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy (Cage), the same man that killed his son in a previous assassination attempt, FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) must go undercover by undergoing a highly secretive surgical procedure to switch faces with Troy. When Troy unexpectedly wakes up in the surgical unit and takes the only face that’s available to him – Archer’s – and kills everyone that knows about Archer’s mission, Archer must escape from jail and find a way to stop Troy, who has assumed his identity just as Archer has assumed his. Bullets, carnage and pigeons abound in typical John Woo fashion.

Travolta after he found out he was contractually bound to do Look Who’s Talking 4

The Lowdown

As unthinkable as it is, I’m not particularly a connoisseur of John Woo’s earlier Hong Kong work. I know him entirely through the work he’s done here in America with some of the biggest action stars of the last 20 years or so. Of all of those films, Face/Off is easily his highest concept and best film to date. Although I have a lot of love for Hard Target and enjoyed Broken Arrow and to a lesser degree, MI-II, Face/Off is his most hard-charging, unrelenting roller coaster ride with the rarity of having two stars who are competing for scene chewing bragging rights throughout the whole film. This special edition release is, I assume, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the film.

No one was more surprised than Cage when he found out the voluntary Scientology retreat Travolta gave him for his birthday wasn’t quite so voluntary…

Central of course to the flick are Travolta and Cage, who quite possibly have set a precedent by interchanging characters in the same film, with each just tossing subtlety out with the trash when they get their turns at villain Castor Troy. Troy’s not quite as nuanced as some of the other heavies of the more recent action films. But what he is is just a big ole bag of nuts and it’s fun to see Cage and Travolta be able to just whip out their overacting packages and see who swings the bigger bat. The edge I’d say would probably have to go to Travolta, simply because he gets to spend more time as the character, but Cage’s initial portrayal is just as whacko and I’d easily bet this role was the most fun either had had in a long time. Travolta was also a bit fresher to the type of role, having just played the similar Vic Deakins in Broken Arrow with Woo just the year before.

"Hey kid, did I ever tell you about my dad? No? Well it all started in New York in 1929 when he was born to parents Nicholas and Katherine, who were Greek immigrants. His career took off after he met and married my mom, Gena and then in 1956 he began teaching method acting workshops. But it was really the 1970s where he got got recognition for his three films: A Woman Under the Influence, which starred my mom, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night, which also starred my mom. My dad got nominated for best director for Influence but he got shafted. Come to think of it, he also got shafted in ’67 when he was nominated for his portrayal of Private Viktor Franko…

When it comes to Archer, it’s pretty much a draw I’d say. Travolta gets the burned-out, tortured side of Archer: tired of the chase and the failures, and of the torturous guilt over his son’s death; whereas Cage ups the level with the exasperation over his situation and the danger he’s put his family in. Also good are Allessandro Nivola as Pollux Troy, who gets to chew a little bit of scenery in his own much more subtle way. Joan Allen is always good, but here I’m sorry to say, she just didn’t get to figure into the movie like she does in some of her other finer portrayals such as the last two Bourne flicks, Pleasantville, or The Contender.

"Okay okay okay, John, look: you agree to do Punisher and I’ll do Ghost Rider."
"Only if I get to play Edna Turnblad too."
"Hell of a caveat, but sure, what the hell…"

As far as the action is concerned: well it is a John Woo joint ain’t it? There’s plenty of shit blowing up, bullets flying to and fro, planes, cars and even boats getting totaled in fiery, spectacular fashion and hey, what’s not to love about some slo-mo carnage set to an Arlen-Harburg rainbow classic? Yes, the action is suitably impressive in Woo’s spectacular style, although this was the first American Woo flick where he started to ape his own style a bit too much with the gun-kata ballets before gun-kata was even discovered. Plenty of directors have pilfered Woo’s signature gun-battle-as-a-dance style – Fuqua and Replacement Killers painfully comes to mind – but Face/Off is the first film I think where Woo started doing that to himself. Hell, I’m surprised that he’s hasn’t used Baryshnikov as a hitman or government agent in one of his flicks yet. Woo would go over the edge in terms of doing a “John Woo” himself by the time MI-II came around, and none of his films have been anywhere near as big as Face/Off and MI-II since. I’d like to see Woo return to form in a hurry, because Face/Off is the pinnacle of his work post-Hong Kong and I’d like to see more of that.

That was the first – and consequently last time – that Johnny Blaze partied with Hulk after he’d had afew hundred kegs too many.

The Package

This Special Edition offers several new special features, including two commentaries, one by John Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, and another with Web and Colleary alone. Not sure why they needed two from the writers. Would really have liked to have heard Cage and Travolta riff on one of those commentary tracks. There’s also seven deleted scenes totaling about eight minutes, including an absolutely horrid alternate ending where Travolta looks in the mirror and sees Cage’s face, which scares the hell out of his wife, then cut to the hug and menacing look on Travolta’s face. Oooh, scary. All of the scenes offer optional commentary by Woo, Werb and Colleary.

"I’d like to take a moment to give you my testimonial on Scientology. You don’t mind do you? Good. Well see, it all started when L. Ron Hubbard had a vision…"

Then there are two new documentaries: The Light and the Dark: The Making of Face/Off and John Woo: A Life in Pictures, which run 63 minutes and 26 minutes respectively. The Light and the Dark is a collection of five featurettes that break down the making of the film and consist of Science Fiction/Human Emotion, Cast/Characters, Woo/Hollywood, Practical/Visual Effects and Future/Past. This is an excellent feature that showcases all of the actors and production staff, with modern interviews from Gershon, Allen and others and past interviews from Travolta and Cage. John Woo: A Life in Pictures is also a good featurette where you get to hear the man himself reminisce on his beginnings and his career. There’s plenty of good stuff here to keep fans of the movie happy for hours.

8.8 out of 10