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John Woo
John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alexandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes
Writing Credits:
Mike Werb, Michael Colleary

Sean Archer, a very tough, rugged FBI Agent. Who is still grieving for the dead son Michael. Archer believes that his son's killer is his sworn enemy, a very powerful criminal, Castor Troy. One day, Archer has finally cornered Castor, however, their fight has knocked out Troy cold. As Archer finally breathes easy over the capture of his enemy, he finds out that Troy has planted a bomb that will destroy the entire city of Los Angeles and all of its inhabitants. Unfortunately the only other person who knows its location is Casor's brother Pollux, and he refuses to talk. The solution, a special operation doctor that can cut off people's faces, and can place a person's face onto another person. Archer undergoes one of those surgeries to talk to Pollux. However, Castor Troy somehow regains consciousness and now wants revenge on Archer for taking his face. Not only is Troy ruining Archer's mission, but his personal life as well. Archer must stop Troy again. This time, it's personal.

In order to catch him, he must become him.

Box Office:
$80 million.
Opening Weekend
$23.387 million on 2621 screens.
Domestic Gross
$112.225 million.

Rated R for intense sequences of strong violence, and for strong language.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
English DTS 6.1 ES
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 139 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 9/11/2007

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director John Woo and Writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary
• Audio Commentary with Writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary
• Seven Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Previews
DVD Two:
• “The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off” Documentary
• “John Woo: A Life In Pictures” Documentary
• Theatrical Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Face/Off: Special Collector's Edition (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 21, 2007)

If I needed to choose the Worst Trailer Ever, I might select the teaser for 1997’s Face/Off. Rarely have I seen a clip that so severely turned me off on a flick. My then-girlfriend still wanted to see it, though, and she essentially convinced me to do so as well.

Man, did I feel happy she did! Despite that atrocious promo, the movie itself turned out to be thrilling and exciting. Ten years after that initial screening, I can’t say that Face/Off still rocks me like it did in 1997, but the flick continues to provide a cool experience.

Face/Off starts with a prologue set about six years prior to its main events. We see arch-criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) shoot law enforcement agent Sean Archer (John Travolta). Archer escapes with a superficial wound, but the bullet passes through him and kills his young son Mike.

Once we come to “present day”, we find that Archer continued on Castor’s trail for that entire period. After a violent sequence, Archer apprehends Castor’s techie brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) after the apparent death of Castor.

With Pollux in custody, Archer attempts to find the location of a nasty biological weapon planted somewhere in Los Angeles. Pollux won’t spill the beans, so authorities offer an unorthodox solution. It turns out that the accident didn’t kill Castor after all; he remains comatose but alive. Dr. Malcolm Walsh (Colm Feore) states that he can swap faces between Castor and Archer and allow the latter to perfectly impersonate the former.

Reluctantly, Archer agrees to do this, so he enters Erehwon Prison to cozy up to Pollux. After some missteps, this succeeds, but in the meantime, the real Castor snaps back to life. Understandably cheesed by the absence of his face, he forces Walsh to turn him into Archer. Castor then kills Walsh and all of Archer’s cronies who know of the secret mission.

Firmly in place as Archer, Castor takes over his life. That means he fools Archer’s wife Eve (Joan Allen) and sullen teen daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain). In Archer’s guise, he stages many events that elevate his status in his agency and make him a new star. The real Archer, however, has to execute an escape from Erehwon so he can reclaim his old life and recapture the real Castor.

Movies often stretch what we’ll accept from technology, but Face/Off pushes the limits to the extreme. However, as absurd as the concept of face switching may sound, the film actually makes it almost sound plausible. After some brief moments of wariness, the topic becomes a non-issue quickly, and it never really distracts from the rest of the flick.

This happens because director John Woo pulls off such great action. He brings a terrific sense of style to the material and moves things at a brisk pace. Woo still allots enough time for character development to make the flick work, but the action makes it something special.

In addition, excellent performances help elevate what should have been a silly movie. Travolta and Cage manage to swap personalities but not parody the others. Travolta probably emulates Cage better than the other way around, but he does get the easier role. Castor’s such a cartoonish figure that Travolta doesn’t have to deal with the same level of nuance. Cage reins in his naturally extravagant tendencies to capture the anguished heart of Archer as well as the crude magnetism of Castor.

Not only do both leads do extremely well in dual roles, but also the supporting performers add depth to the piece. Allen helps anchor the flick with her accurate view of Eve, and Nivola turns a small and caricatured role into something quite memorable. He allows Pollux to be amusing and compelling far beyond the scope of the scripted character.

Parts of Face/Off really do seem cheesy, especially due to some artificial and stilted dialogue. However, the combination of elegant style and excellent performances make it a genuine winner. The movie also packs a much more substantial emotional punch than the average action film. I don’t know if I can consider Face/Off to be a true classic, but it remains a terrific piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A- / Bonus A-

Face/Off appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Almost no problems materialized in this strong transfer.

Sharpness appeared terrific. The movie consistently came across as crisp and distinct, and I noticed no issues related to softness. The film seemed detailed and accurate. No concerns with jagged edges, shimmering or edge enhancement occurred, and source flaws remained very minor. I detected a handful of tiny specks but that was it, as the vast majority of the flick was clean and fresh.

Colors looked solid. The movie went with a fairly natural palette that didn’t tend to favor bright hues. Nonetheless, the tones looked clear and appropriate for the film. Blacks were dense and deep, while shadows appeared smooth. This was a consistently positive image.

In terms of audio, Face/Off featured both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES mixes. Both sounded virtually identical. I noticed no differences between the pair.

The soundfields were solid. Music showed good stereo imaging, while effects appeared well placed and involving. The elements blended well and moved accurately. The surrounds contributed a lot of unique information, especially during the many action sequences. All five channels received a great workout.

Audio quality worked fine. A couple of edge lines materialized, but the speech usually was concise and distinctive. Music showed nice range and delineation, while effects appeared lively and tight. No issues with distortion occurred, and low-end response appeared tight and deep. The two mixes provided very good audio from start to finish.

How did the picture and audio of this 2007 “Special Collector’s Edition” compare to those of the old 1998 DVD? Both offered notable improvements. Both visuals and sound seemed clearer and cleaner. They were pretty mediocre on the original disc, but they really satisfied here.

While the old DVD only included the flick’s trailer, the SCE throws in lots of extras. On Disc One, we find two separate audio commentaries. For the first, we hear from director John Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary as they offer a running, screen-specific track. They cover what attracted Woo to the project and what he brought to it, working with the actors, script, story and rewrite issues, some stunts, action and effects topics, and a mix of other production subjects.

From start to finish, this commentary provides a nice look at the film. It covers the nuts and bolts of the production as well as some more personal elements. For instance, we learn what “Over the Rainbow” means to Woo. We find out why there’s a slash in the movie’s title and many other helpful topics. I like this track a lot, as it gives us plenty of fine notes.

Next comes a commentary from Werb and Colleary on their own. This is another running, screen-specific discussion. They cover script, story and rewrites, working with Woo, cast, characters and performances, and a smattering of other production subjects.

Viewed on its own, this is a very good commentary. Viewed as our second track, it’s not so hot. The problem stems from repetition, as we hear many of the same details already discussed in the chat with Woo. Sure, a few new notes appear, but the vast majority of the material repeats from the first commentary. Some of the remarks are literally identical, as I believe they recorded this piece first and the DVD’s producers ported over some bits straight to the Woo commentary. Since Werb and Colleary are entertaining speakers, the track is still quite fun despite all the redundant material. Nonetheless, if you only listen to the piece with Woo, you won’t miss a lot here.

Seven Deleted Scenes fill a total of eight minutes, 18 seconds. We find “Castor Kills the Janitor” (0:36), “Archer Weeps” (1:07), “Childhood Lessons” (1:03), “Hideaway Shootout” (2:01), “Archer Vs. Castor Finale” (2:10), “Will Dad Be Dad Again?” (0:09) and “Alternate Ending” (1:10). Don’t expect anything substantial here. “Janitor” just reminds us that Castor’s pretty evil, while “Weeps” simply reinforces Archer’s depression about his dead son. We hear about “Lessons” in the commentaries, and it’s as silly as the writers think it is. “Finale” and “Dad” provide minor extensions to existing scenes, so they don’t bring anything fresh.

The “Ending” is interesting just because it’s a less happy-happy conclusion. That doesn’t mean it’d work better, though. “Hideaway” intrigues because it alters the tone of that sequence. In the final cut, Adam seems oddly oblivious to the mayhem, while this version makes him more involved. It’s not a massive change, but it’s more logical.

We can watch these with or without commentary from Woo, Werb and Colleary. We get notes about the scenes and learn why they didn’t make the final cut. Some of this material repeats from the main commentaries, but it remains appropriate and helpful here.

DVD One opens with an ad for Next. That promo also appears in the Previews area along with clips for Shooter and Zodiac

Over on DVD Two, we get the same trailer from the prior disc as well as two new components. The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off fills one hour, four minutes and two seconds with movie clips, behind the scenes bits, and interviews. We hear from Woo, Werb, Colleary, producer Terence Chang, producer Barrie M. Osborne, 1st AD Arthur Anderson, production designer Neil Spisak, weapons coordinator Robert “Rock” Galotti, special makeup effects Kevin Yagher, stunt coordinator Brian Smrz, and actors John Travolta, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Nicolas Cage, Alessandro Nivola, and Dominique Swain. The program looks at the script’s origins, inspirations and script development, getting backing and how Woo ended up on the project, cast, characters and performances, Woo’s style on the set and his impact on the production, the film’s guns, stunts and action choreography, production design, storyboards, sets and locations, various effects, and thoughts about the final product.

After two commentaries, I worried that there might not be much left to discuss in a documentary. I’m happy to report that “Light” finds plenty of new details to cover. The show goes over lots of subjects barely touched in the screenplay/story dominated commentaries, and it even reveals some script facts that don’t appear there; for instance, we learn a little more about the sci-fi elements from the original text. “Light” turns into a really good examination of the film.

John Woo: A Life In Pictures lasts 26 minute, six seconds and includes notes from Woo, Anderson, Chang, Galotti, Yagher, Smrz, and filmmaker John Carpenter. “Pictures” looks at Woo’s childhood and early life before it goes through his interest in movies and how he got into that field. From there we follow how he developed into a director, notes about some of his flicks and thoughts about his style and personality.

While not a tremendously in-depth piece, “Pictures” provides a pretty decent overview of Woo’s life and career. We get a nice glimpse of the man, his influences and his style. I’d have liked it to run longer and get into his various flicks to a greater degree, but I think “Pictures” provides a good general take on Woo.

One of the best action flicks in recent years, Face/Off easily could have turned silly. However, the movie melds excellent action with vivid performances to become something special. Although the old DVD was quite lackluster, this new one finally presents the movie in fine fashion. It offers very strong picture and audio along with a consistently informative and interesting set of extras. This “Special Collector’s Edition” of Face/Off would make a great addition to your library.

To rate this film, visit the original review of FACE/OFF

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