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In this plot-twisting, high-tech thriller, relentless FBI agent Sean Archer must go dangerously undercover to investigate the location of a lethal biological weapon planted by his arch rival, the sadistic terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy. After undergoing a radical surgical procedure, Archer literally "borrows" Troy's face and identity to carry out his mission. But things go awry when Troy, emerging from a coma, transforms into Archer and wrecks havoc upon his life, both at work and at home. As the bomb continues to tick and the tension mounts, it becomes a high stakes game of cat and mouse as both Archer and Troy, ironically trapped in their enemy's body, try to save face — their own.
For more about Face/Off and the Face/Off Blu-ray release, see Face/Off Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 16, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain
Director: John Woo
» See full cast & crew
Face/Off Blu-ray Review
Does John Woo's action classic measure up on Blu-ray?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 16, 2008
Yes, his face...off. The eyes, nose, skin, it's coming off.
The world of high technology and unbelievable medical and scientific advances meets the blood and guts action movie genre in Face/Off, easily director John Woo's (Broken Arrow) biggest Hollywood smash hit. The legendary Hong Kong director, whose greatest Asian hits include The Killer and Hard Boiled, teams up with 90s icons Nicolas Cage (Next) and John Travolta (Ladder 49) for a celebration of violence. This is a film that takes rough-and-tumble action and turns it into a work of art in trademark Woo style, combining that with an interesting concept that while completely implausible makes for a fascinating character study, even if much of the plot is incredibly contrived and far-fetched. Still, Face/Off is a blast, if not a bit disturbing at times, an action film that is far slicker than your standard-fare shoot-em-up-picture.
Face/Off is a classic tale of good versus evil and about what happens when good becomes evil and vice versa. Nicolas Cage plays Castor Troy, your garden-variety maniacal criminal who sports a pair of gold plated .45s and a crazy demeanor. He also intends to blow up Los Angeles in a devious plot with his brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola, The Company), a terror attack they bill as "the Biblical plague L.A. deserves." Special Agent Sean Archer (Travolta) has dedicated his life to stopping Troy, the stakes considerably raised when Troy murders Archer's son in a botched attempt to kill Archer himself. In a showdown between hero and villain at the beginning of the movie (in an action scene worthy of being the climax in just about any other action flick), Archer takes out Troy, presumably killing him. When intelligence gathers that Pollux may know the whereabouts of the bomb, it is decided he will only leak the location of it to his brother alone. Desperate to stop it before time runs out, Archer reluctantly agrees to undergo a radical medical procedure that will literally remove his face and replace it with Castor's, along with a few other tweaks to get the complete appearance just right.
Archer, now Castor Troy, is sent to prison and coaxes the information he needs from a hesitant and questioning Pollux. However, the real Castor Troy recovers unexpectedly and forces the doctors to perform the same procedure on him, turning him into Archer. As Archer, Castor Troy releases his brother from prison, defuses his own bomb and becomes a national hero, and takes over Archer's home life. Meanwhile, the real Archer rots in prison, knowing full well what's happening on the outside, but nobody will believe him and he has nowhere to turn. He'll have escape prison by any means available to him and fight to reclaim his life and terminate his arch nemesis once and for all.
Face/Off is definitely Hollywood rubbish at its best, but I liked it anyway. The movie offers up junk science, seemingly impossible medical techniques even for today, let alone when the film was released in 1997, crazy action stunts, a visual style that tries to turn brutality into poetry, and desperately attempts to convey some kind of message about individuality and/or the duality of man. Out of all of these, it really only succeeds at making violence into an art form, and John Woo is so good at that that the rest of the ridiculous premise is not only overlooked but accepted. The foundation of this story is interesting, and it makes for a good watch, but it's the movie's strong action sequences that make it perfectly acceptable to create an impossible plot to move us from one action extravaganza to the next. Sometimes Woo just gets too carried away, and the more "artsy" action sequences get bogged down in odd plot contrivances, such as when a shootout is drowned out in favor of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I recognized the point of the scene, showcasing the action from a child's perspective, but I couldn't help but to find it completely laughable. To Woo's credit, his stated goal for the picture was human drama first and action second, and to a degree, it worked, but the bulk of the drama and emotion seems focused on the shock value of the situation more so than the long-term ramifications for everyone involved, a far more interesting and important case study than the immediate effects of the crisis.
Face/Off must have been a dream job for both Cage and Travolta. Where else would these actors find themselves playing two characters in the same movie, each one at such opposite ends of the spectrum? Granted, the vast majority of the movie features Cage as the hero and Travolta as the villain, but the challenge of not only acting from one extreme to another, but replicating the way in which the other character behaved, all the while throwing in some of your original character's personality traits must have been a daunting task. Both actors handle themselves very well, completely convincing the audience of each role from a physical, mental, and emotional standpoint. Both Alessandro Nivola as Pollux Troy and Joan Allen as Archer's wife are standouts in supporting roles as well.
Face/Off Blu-ray, Video Quality
Face/Off finally arrives on Blu-ray high definition, its 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer a solid one. This transfer is noticeably grain-free, raising the question as to just how much noise reduction was applied to this title. While the image is a good one overall, there are times where the transfer suffers from an odd appearance, most notably on several close-up shots of the actors. A scene where Pollux and Castor Troy (who is really Archer) are discussing the location of the bomb in prison is notably off, both actors looking like wax statues with very little detail on their faces. Either that, or they are both caked in make-up in that shot. The transfer also exhibits very minor but continuous speckles of dirt on the print itself. Overall, however, many Blu-ray fans should be pleased with the look of this movie. Clarity and resolution are solid and detail is fairly high. Some close-up shots do reveal some fine detail; we can see every grain of Archer's five o'clock shadow and almost too clearly see the hairs on his fingers in one particular close-up of his hand. Black levels are excellent, the image never seeming too bright or gray in black spaces. Colors are neither dull nor overly bright. In other words, color reproduction is spot-on. The movie never really goes for a special color scheme, pushing particular hues more so than others or employing a more "artsy" look, except for in the prison sequences where everything is a shade of blue, gray, or green. The colors of a U.S. Flag seen draped on a coffin near the end of the film, for example, look stunningly perfect, the flag never having looked so good in high-definition. It's not often that this image loses its sharp edge and becomes soft, but it does on occasion, notably in chapter 20 when Troy (as Archer) disarms the bomb. The film's climax, which takes place in speedboats on the water, looks great -- bright, vibrant, and clear. This is definitely a solid high definition viewing experience. It won't win transfer of the year (or last year, as the case may be), but it's definitely nothing to sneeze at, either.
Face/Off Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Undeniably the strongest aspect of this disc is the amazing lossy sound mixes it employs. Both a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and a DTS 6.1 soundtrack are included, and for the purpose of this review I selected the DTS mix. To call this one loud is an understatement. It's deafening; the track just keeps getting louder and louder, and only minutes in I was forced to turn the volume down from reference level. Nevertheless, the track proves itself to be one of, if not the most active and dynamic I've heard, lossless or not, and it is an absolute blast to listen to. The dream-like opening sequence of the movie puts every speaker to work, including the subwoofer. Sound sweeps the room along with the merry-go-round and deep bass permeates several scenes. Then, a gunshot rings out, and the sound is so effective you can almost feel the impact of the bullet passing through you and your media room as it flies from the back channels to the front. The film's music is room-filling and exciting. "Loud" doesn't always equate to "good," and it did seem that some of the finer details of the mix could have been brought out just a bit better with a high-def track. Still, bass is probably as powerful as anything I've heard before. A scene where an airplane crashes through a hangar early in the movie felt as if it might bring my house crumbling down too, and that was after I had turned down the volume. This isn't the only instance of the bass going absolutely berserk. It's like that in many of the action sequences, truly the harshest workout my subwoofer has ever been through, and that includes what it endured during films like Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. Surround channels are put to great use as well. When Troy (really Archer) arrives in prison, there is some fantastic echoing as the prison guard tells him what to expect. The rear channels definitely handle the reverberations well, adding a great sense of realism to the mix. In many actions scenes, gunshots fill the rear channels as do the impact of the rounds into surfaces and humans. Shots are loud and precise, and we truly feel immersed in each and every firefight. If you are just looking for a loud and crazy soundtrack, this is definitely it, and listening to it will probably be the most fun you'll have with a lossy track to date. As far as "standard definition soundtracks go, this is absolutely the best I've heard, but it still loses a point for not being offered in high definition on a high definition format disc.
Face/Off Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Face/Off is transplanted to Blu-ray as a solid special edition. Two commentary tracks highlight the proceedings, the first featuring director John Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary. This track was recorded for the 10th anniversary of the film. Woo starts off the track recounting the changes the story underwent, morphing from a sci-fi project to a human drama film replete with action while the writers discuss Woo's influence on making sure the emotion of the film remained front-and-center, even through all of the intense action sequences. Woo also discusses his freedom to make this movie as he wanted, not being at odds with his colleagues as he was in other projects. There is quite a bit in this track, enough to make it worthwhile, although much of the track focuses on the polishing of the script and creating just the right mood for the movie, making sure the human drama played as just as important, if not more so, than the action. The second track features the same participants minus Woo, and the track offers little of value to learn that wasn't included in the first one. The highlight of the track is the writers discussing Woo's disappointment with the Hollywood system and eschewing the label he's received as a director only capable of filming intense action. In fact, Woo prefers films such as Face/Off where he can incorporate the action into a film grounded in high drama and human emotion. This track is definitely for hardcore Face/Off fans only.
Seven deleted scenes (1080p, 8:26) with optional commentary by co-writers Werb and Colleary are next. The Light and the Dark: Making 'Face/Off' is a five-part documentary. The first part, Science Fiction/Human Emotion (1080p, 9:44) looks at the origins of the idea, the filmmakers wanting to create a clever action movie and write a villain just as complex and interesting as the hero. There is also an interesting discussion about the script's transfer from Warner Brothers to Paramount, and the reluctance of John Woo to helm such an ambitious Science Fiction project, and the initial attachment of director Rob Cohen to the project. Cast/Characters (1080p, 17:22) looks at the casting of the leads. The writers originally wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone as the leads (two actors I've always wanted to see together on-screen), but Travolta and Cage were ultimately chosen. The feature focuses on the work of both actors as they slipped into their respective roles, portraying not only their characters but one another. Woo/Hollywood (1080p, 21:34) looks at the work and style of director John Woo. Practical/Visual Effects (1080p, 9:41) takes a basic look at the film's special effects. Wrapping up the documentary is Future/Past (1080p, 5:56), a short feature that focuses on John Woo's take on the film's finale. John Woo: A Life in Pictures (1080p, 26:03) is next, a look at the director's life and career in his own words. Finally, the theatrical trailer for Face/Off (1080p, 2:07) concludes a solid supplemental package.
Face/Off Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Face/Off offers audiences all the action they can handle, and then some. The movie works as straight action, but John Woo's effort to humanize the film didn't completely work. While I found the subject material and concept highly fascinating, it nevertheless seemed to me to simply be a means to an end, just another plot to frame around an action extravaganza. I enjoyed the movie nevertheless, Cage and Travolta are both excellent in their roles and Woo doing what he does best, creating some of the most memorable action sequences ever seen in either his illustrious career or in Hollywood history. This Blu-ray edition of Face/Off is a good one. The video quality isn't exceptional, but very good nevertheless. The audio is dynamic and awesome, only marred by the fact that there is no high definition lossless or uncompressed version available. The disc also offers a rather strong supplemental package. Recommended.
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Face/Off Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Paramount Further Details Their Blu-ray Plans - April 30, 2008
Paramount Home Entertainment today revealed further details about their upcoming Blu-ray plans and in addition to releasing 'Bee Movie', 'Face/Off' and 'Next' on May 20th, they will also be releasing 'Blades of Glory', a quirky comedy about the competetive world ...
• Paramount Reveals Initial Blu-ray Titles - April 29, 2008
Paramount Home Entertainment have finally unveiled their long-awaited first wave of catalog and recent hit titles that they'll begin releasing May 20th. "We will have a strong slate of titles for Blu-ray release throughout the year, worldwide, and are enthusiastic ...
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