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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/26/98

1997 (1998) - Paramount Pictures

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: B
OK, so there are logical holes here big enough to drive a truck through. If you can get past that, Face/Off delivers stylish, high-powered action, entertainingly campy performances and just plain good fun.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/C
Darkly stylish anamorphic widescreen video (if a bit grainy), and excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. A theatrical trailer is also included.

Overall Rating: B
Whether you're a fan of director John Woo, actors Travolta and Cage, or just big-time gangster action, I'm guessing you'll dig Face/Off. The bullets really fly, and with this sound, you'll hear every one. A very nice DVD.

Specs and Features

140 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:00:01, just after the start of chapter 19), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (40 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish, Close Captioned


OK, the story here is pretty... unique. Vile terrorist and all-around nasty guy Castor Troy (Cage) kills the young son of FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) in a shooting. Years later, Archer is out for revenge - he'll get Troy if it's the last thing he does, no matter what the risk. This of course, has taken a heavy toll on his family life, particularly his relationship with his wife (Joan Allen). Archer finally gets his chance, of course, confronting and catching Troy after an elaborate gunfight/Lear jet chase. But there's a problem - through Troy lies comatose, he's hidden a massive bomb, plum full of deadly biological agents, somewhere in the middle of Los Angeles. Only his brother Pollux, who is now rotting in prison, knows where it is. So Archer devises a clever plan: with the help of some expert surgeons, and the latest medical technology, he'll literally switch faces with Troy, then go undercover inside the prison to trick Pollux into telling him the bomb's location. Still with me? Naturally, it doesn't quite go according to plan. Troy wakes up at the clinic, and discovers himself without a face. So he forces the doctors to give him Archer's, which is just sitting there 'on ice' awaiting his return. Now, Troy (whom everyone thinks is Archer) turns the tables on Archer (whom everyone thinks is Troy), by moving in with his family and generally turning his world upside down. And poor Archer (as Troy) finds himself stuck in prison, helpless to prevent it. Whew!

Anyone familiar with director John Woo's work (Broken Arrow, The Killer, etc...), knows that he digs big action sequences, particularly involving as many bullets and explosions as possible. He delivers exactly that here, with lots of great, fluid camera work, and tight staging. But it's the performances by Cage and Travolta that really stand out in Face/Off. Given the central gimmick of the admittedly campy plot, these two actors really allow themselves to cut loose, each assuming the mannerisms of the other. The result is highly entertaining, with terrific interplay and tongue-in-cheek banter between the two. Cage and Travolta absolutely make this film, and more importantly, they make it a lot of fun to watch. So much so, that you quickly forget the fact that anyone who has had even a minor nose job, is usually black and blue for weeks, much less having your entire face replaced! Ever seen someone after a chemical peel? It ain't pretty, man, let me tell ya. Oh well, no matter.

The DVD version of Face/Off definitely delivers in terms of picture and sound quality, although not quite as well as another of Paramount's first DVDs, Star Trek: First Contact. The anamorphic widescreen picture, although dark, is generally very good, but there's a bit more digital artifacting visible (notice the Paramount logo at the very beginning of the film). The print also exhibits a bit more grain, and there's a bit of Digital Video Noise Reduction present. But, as with First Contact, the contrast and color saturation are terrific. Check out chapter 3 - note Troy's gold-plated guns, and that bright orange Chiclets box. This is vibrant color indeed. The DVD video presentation is very film-like, and thoroughly engrossing. You'll spot a bit more dust on the print, but overall, the picture flaws are pretty minor.

The sound is also excellent, but again, not quite in the same league as First Contact. There's not as much use of the rear channels, to create a sense of depth to the sound field. Nonetheless, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is thunderous, and you'll hear every bullet zing past your head. Again, you must select the 5.1 soundtrack from the menu prior to starting the film, or you'll hear the default Dolby Surround. As with the other Paramount titles, there's a theatrical trailer included, and a mix of languages (English & French), subtitles (Spanish) and Captions (English). Not a bevy of extras, but the basics are covered.

There is one other minor issue I have with this DVD - the layer switch. The disc is RSDL dual-layered, and the switch takes place moments into chapter 19 (1:00:01), just as Travolta is about to enter the interrogation room. The placement of the switch is a bit distracting - I saw several better places for it, where it would have been less noticeable. Again, I'm picking nits. No doubt Paramount will get better at hiding their layer-switches.

Bottom line

Face/Off is a guilty pleasure - a zero-logic action film that thoroughly entertains, and which delivers some great psychological tension. Cage and Travolta are in high form - there's plenty of testosterone and swagger to go around. You can tell they had a blast making this film, and if you suspend your disbelief, you'll have an equally great time watching it. Overall, a darn cool DVD.

Bill Hunt
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