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Film Talk: Looking Back – An incendiary identity crisis in Face/Off

A lovely action yarn made at the height of the genre’s powers, this one combined surgical sorcery with a sociopathic criminal, a lawman with a score to settle and two of the most winning smiles in the business. Messrs Cage and Travolta, we salute you – let’s do this...

Nicholas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off
Nicholas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off

Directed by John Woo, 1997’s Face/Off saw good old Nic and John in a multi-role extravaganza, with each portraying both the flick’s hero and villain, who have their faces switched by surgery. With an intriguing premise that would demand not one but two strong performances from each of its stars, there was plenty of buzz around Face/Off's release and whether or not it would cut the mustard.

The first Hollywood film in which Woo was given major creative control, the director had a lot riding on this flick, and once the hard work was done, waited with bated breath to see how it would be received...

Sean Archer (Travolta) is one of the FBI’s top agents, hell-bent on bringing down ruthless career terrorist, Castor Troy (Cage) – the man who also killed his young son.

As Archer and his team ambush Troy at Los Angeles International Airport, Troy goads Archer with knowledge of a bomb located somewhere in the city set to go off in a few days, but he is knocked into a coma before the agent can learn more.

The only other person that knows about the bomb’s whereabouts is Troy’s younger brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), who is in a maximum security prison and keeping his silence.

With no other choice available, The FBI persuades Archer to undergo a face transplant with the comatose Troy, assume his identity, and then infiltrate the prison to hopefully get Pollux to talk.

Waking up from the surgery, Archer is horrified at the face of his son’s killer staring back at him in the mirror, but puts his anger aside and goes on with the mission.

Making contact with a sceptical Pollux in the prison, Archer works to win his trust and convince him that he is indeed Troy himself.

However, unbeknownst to the agent, the real Troy has awoken from his coma, and he wants his face back.

Killing everyone who knew about the operation, but not before forcing the surgeon to give him Archer’s face, Troy assumes Archer’s identity and visits the horrified agent in prison.

Now Archer must escape and 'face off' with an even more dangerous Troy, who is now not only running the FBI, but is living with Archer’s family, and has their lives in his grasp...

Face/Off earned a great deal of critical acclaim for its performances – particularly those of its two leading men, each of whom portrayed hero and villain to perfection. The flick’s stylized action sequences also attracted a lot of praise, as well as its musical score, direction, and the emotional depth and originality of its story.

A commercial success, the film earned $245 million worldwide making it the 11th highest-grossing film of 1997.

It was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Sound Effects Editing, and is often cited as Woo’s best Hollywood movie.

Ticking a lot of the essential boxes for an action flick but also teaming this with commendable originality, Face/Off is fun, exciting, thrilling, and well worth dusting off for a re-watch if its been a while.

For those who have never had the pleasure, you’re in for a treat – among both Cage and Travolta’s finest work.

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