John Woo directs Nicolas Cage, John Travolta and Joan Allen in this action thriller where mortal enemies, an obsessed FBI agent and a horny terrorist for hire, swap faces and exploit each other’s lives.
“LIKE A PEEEE-EACH!” Joins Ronin and Tomorrow Never Dies as one of the last great hurrahs of the stunts, pyrotechnics and model-work orientated OTT action extravaganzas. Minimal obvious CGI is deployed and the movie has aged all the better for it. The carnage is greedily indulged in some true genre high points of big budget violence and destruction. The reason this (almost) adult blockbuster has stood the test of time though is a committed focus on the dramatic and comedic elements. Woo and the script give unparalleled play to domestic and workplace scenes where these two blurred but opposed characters ease into the other’s life. Much humour, tension and moments of acting weirdness emerge from this immoderation towards the emotional drama of the piece. This surely has to be the most improvised and dialogue heavy release to feature a Humvee playing chicken with a private jet? Who expected a movie where a SWAT team are shotgunned on their abseil ropes like piñatas to have so much Shakespearean import?
Cage naturally runs with the ball, his schizophrenic brand of overacting suiting the mania and unhinged state of whichever part he plays. His unrestrained, fully immersed style turf up so many unforgettable moments of cool, camp and crazed. Travolta holds his own, though his doughy face and unbroken vocal range aren’t quite the match for Cage pumping his performance out of every pore of his body. Woo crowbars his beloved doves, slo-mo, sentimentality and stand offs into the mix. The duality theme of the piece harks back to The Killer nicely.
You do feel a little exhausted by it all. It is a truly overwhelming film. It is so packed with incident that there are awesome moments nobody ever talks about; the erratic teasing editing when a faceless Castor Troy awakes from his coma, the strangely tender goodbye kiss between Nick Cassevetes and Gina Gerson’s sibling psychos. Did Castor intend to shoot Archer’s son at the beginning? Did he really – REALLY – think middle aged John Travolta was just riding a carousel alone on his day off? Makes Con Air feel like Bergman. I’ve sat down to Face / Off many times, in all the differing viewing formats, and never once felt like I’ve ever had the full energy to absorb the big speedboat finale. One day I might just watch that set piece separately and enjoy it in its own right.
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