Guns and Doves: 'Face/Off' Review
In a month that I knew would be painful but hoped that it would also be quick, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Though we’re currently progressing through mid-summer with the disaster that should be A Nic Cage Retrospective, my first two rolls of the cinematic dice have proven gracious in their lack of doling out bittersweet, hyper, and neurotic acting. My first review offered me a humorous, romantic and well-crafted look into a softer Cage matched on-screen in many regards (and surpassed in much more) by a wonderfully talented leading lady. What should have set me up for statistical death-by-Cage due to his sheer number of “less than stellar” works, instead gave me a chance to look at Cage in a film that does him more justice than he does it.
Face/Off follows government super-agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) who is tasked with bringing down international super-criminal Caster Troy (Nicholas Cage). Where is the unnecessary, wholly cheap and emotion bait tragic backstory you ask? Well, Troy shot Archer’s son off a merry-go-round with an assault rifle.
So no, child-murdering, M-16 wielding psychopath Cage is not a good guy.
What this film is more than anything, is the best of late-90s/early 2000s action. Directed by Hong Kong action movie kingpin John Woo, Face/Off is expertly coordinated, perfectly shot, and brilliantly executed. Though his action is more bombastic than, say, Paul Greengrass, he’s not a pyromaniac Michael Bay knockoff either. Mixing explosive vehicle chases, tightly penned gun fights and a whole bunch of doves, Woo paints a masterful picture of lead and gunpowder. Though my personal favorite may be Broken Arrow, it’s no lie to say that this film is one of Woo’s best directed Hollywood outings.
But, for any familiar with Woo, you’ll know that’s not all he carries into his films. Namely, the infamous early 2000s techno-babble, an overstuffed plot, and dialogue rife with clichés. Though certainly not a good justification, many of Woo’s films fall into the same trap, much of what he does with storytelling, he doesn’t do anywhere as well as action. He is, however, excellent at choosing a creative (and sometimes silly and contrived) plot. While parallel protagonist/antagonist sequences and transitions are nothing unique to this film, the two-sided plot and exploration of both characters is a nice element.
As for Nic Cage, well, that’s another point of failure. Featuring the hyperactive Cage style, Woo’s exceptional action choreography can’t save his villain from overacting and chewing scenery in just about every scene he’s awake (and thank God there are some of them in which he’s not). If you’d like a taste of the extreme “range” that Cage embodies as an actor, simply watch the subject of my first review for this month, Moonstruck, back to back with Face/Off. Despite the romcom/action split, Cage’s acting would definitely be the most polarizing part of it.
That’s not to say the film bites the dust because Cage can’t stop screaming whenever possible, it’s just a mild annoyance more than anything. Sometimes it suits the character, other times you wonder why a conniving master criminal would be so damn boisterous all the time.
Despite the lackluster acting by Cage, Travolta’s performance as Archer is a better take on secret agents as a whole and dare I say it, some of his scenes concerning his son were almost poignant. If you can handle the 1997 release date and some loud noises here and there, Face/Off isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, just be sure you don’t follow it up with Con-Air.