Reviewed by: Cheryl Sneeringer
Here’s the set up: FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) is obsessed with apprehending Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage), the terrorist who killed his young son six years before. Archer’s anti-terrorist team receives information that Troy and his brother Pollux are at the Los Angeles airport, so Archer and dozens of men and vehicles converge on Troy’s departing chartered jet. Thus begins a spectacular chase sequence that includes collisions, explosions, a game of chicken with a jetliner, and heartless killings. And this is just the beginning of this movie!
This initial face-off between Troy and Archer ends with the criminal (Troy) in a coma and his brother in prison. But Archer’s victory is short-lived. He learns that Troy and his brother have planted a nerve gas bomb somewhere in L.A.—a bomb that will detonate in a matter of days. The only way Archer can get the bomb’s location is to assume Troy’s identity and get the information from Troy’s brother, who is incarcerated in a maximum security prison. At a secret government surgical facility, a surgeon has advanced laser surgery to the point that Archer can literally and seamlessly receive a face transplant from the comatose Troy. In a covert operation known only to a handful of his colleagues, Archer enters the prison as Castor Troy.
Unfortunately, while Archer is taking his licks masquerading as Troy, the faceless Troy wakes up from his coma, commandeers the surgical facility, and forces the surgeon to graft Archer’s face onto his own. He eliminates everyone who knew about the operation, and takes his place as FBI agent Archer.
“Face/Off” is an action-packed roller coaster. The action sequences (and there are many) are beautifully choreographed. The cinematography is excellent. Director John Woo cranks up the suspense using images of peace-candles, doves, and slow motion sequences—just prior to furious gun battles and breathless chase scenes. He holds your attention and keeps your adrenaline high.
This film, however, definitely is not for children or squeamish adults. It is as grisly and gory as you will find. There are scenes of operating-room gore, sadistic violence, self-mutilation, stomach-turning torture, blood spurting from severed arteries, and long sequences of slow-motion shootouts. The Castor Troy character is an utterly evil criminal madman—a cruelly menacing character almost painful to watch. There are several uses of bad language, some sexual groping, and some sections of dialogue that refer to sex of a most degrading kind.
If you’re in the market for an edge-of-the-seat, testosterone-charged, action maelstrom, and you don’t mind being exposed to lots of blood and gore, then this is the movie for you.
Year of Release—1997