Movie Review: Face/Off - a Twisted Tale of Shifting Perceptions
Guns, violence, explosions, surgery, romance, sex, blood - what could possibly be better? in this oldie-but-a-goodie (released in 1997) this film explores the human psyche in an extremely creative and never-before-seen manner - and gets the benefit of two gifted actors with a stellar supporting cast to bring the story to life in a heart-stopping, pulse-pounding beautiful portrayal of life, loss and destiny.
In the ultimate story of questioning your own identity, this film explores what it means to be yourself, defining who we are as much more than just our outward appearance. The characters are forced to engage with people who look like (and sometimes act like) their worst enemies in some scenarios, and to deal with someone who looks like a loved one who acts like an enemy. It demonstrates the crux of what it means to be a human being, and what defines us, forcing us to look deeper into others and also ourselves to discover who we really are - and who we want to be.
Sean Archer (John Travolta) is a seasoned FBI agent with a nemesis of epic proportions - Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage). Troy was responsible for the murder of Archer's son as an unexpected casualty - he was trying to assassinate Archer at the time. Archer hasn't let Castor out of his thoughts for a moment, and his family life and romantic life with his wife has suffered as a result.
In a crucial blowup between the two opposing factions, Troy's brother Pollux was captured by the FBI and Castor landed in a coma. The FBI's team of crack surgeons come up with an ingenues - and deadly - plan of attack. Archer will undergo surgery to remove his own face and physical characteristics and assume the appearance of Castor Troy so he can infiltrate the prison where Pollux is being held to uncover the location of a bomb planted somewhere in the greater Los Angeles area. Surgery completed, Archer becomes an unwitting pawn in a game of intrigue - with deadly consequences.
The main negative point that this film has is clearly the fact that it's completely unrealistic. This could never happen in the real world, despite the advances in the fields of medicine, science and technology. This doesn't detract from the film necessarily, but it does make it a bit more difficult to relate to. You want to believe that it's possible and that it's a classic good vs. evil vs. good commentary on our often violent and unrealistic lives - but it's not.
Some of the scenes are dramatically overblown, from boat chases, to the imagery at the very end when good wins out over evil - but I'm not positive that the unrealistic nature detracts from the film. It makes it somehow heightened and pronounced. It's like taking the wildest version you can imagine of good verses evil and squaring it - making it two times itself - and two times more effective. I think that the fact that the premise is so unbelievable actually works in its favor - it draws you in, and audience members find themselves torn between siding with the obvious "good" character who has his own personal demons and siding with the "bad" one, who despite his obvious shortcomings has genuine moments of compassion and humanity.
One of the main things that strikes me about this movie in general is the sheer beauty of the way that it's shot. It's full of horrible scenes of violence, but it's also full of wonderful moments of love, pure connection and human kindness - even from people who would normally be enemies, not unwitting allies.
The sheer brilliance of this film rests on the ability of both Cage and Travolta to not only bring their own unique characters to life, but to also mimic the unique characteristics of the other as well. Cage plays Travolta brilliantly, down to the last tortured soul moment. He is the epitome of good, while his face is synonymous with this families definition of evil. He is compassionate and caring, despite what his outward appearance dictates. Travolta, likewise, easily slips into the role of master villain, using and abusing his position of power and doing it all with a touch of flair - just like Cage portrayed it in the beginning of the film. The two of them play each other so beautifully that the dichotomy is remarkable.
Overall, this films bring to life the notion that it is truly what's on the inside that counts, no matter what our outward appearance says about who we are or how we're supposed to be.
I am notorious for watching movies over and over again, and I can honestly say that this is a film that never gets old. Every time I see it, I notice something new - or something that I previously overlooked gets brought to center-stage and catches my eye. The cinematography is brilliant and beautiful, and the characters do a stellar performance from the worst of the worst to the best of the best. It leaves the audience pondering a lot more than just the fact that this movie could never actually happen. It speaks to much deeper philosophical subjects if the audience is willing to engage and start thinking about what they movie is actually saying. Dig beneath the script, Dig beyond the character development and the scenery, etc - see what the movie is actually saying underneath. Explore your inner demons - and your outer ones.