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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » Face Off (HD DVD)
Face Off (HD DVD)
Paramount // R // October 30, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $36.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 26, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movies:

John Woo's third Hollywood production, Face/Off remains one of his best efforts shot on U.S. soil. Detractors will point out the fact that parts of the story just flat out don't make any sense or that action scenes are to unrealistic but if realism is what you're after, you've picked the wrong movie. Face/Off is a comic book come to life, it's completely over the top and at times completely ridiculous but that said, the movie is a blast - it's just fun!

When we first meet Sean Archer (John Travolta) he and his five year old son, Mikey, are riding a merry-go-round. Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage), a notorious international terrorist, takes aim through the scope of his rifle and puts a bullet through Archer's shoulder, which wound him but kills his son. Five years later, Archer is the man in charge of an F.B.I. anti-terrorist group whose sole purpose is to stop Castor Troy and his bomb-building brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola). Despite the efforts of his wife, Eve (Joan Allen), Sean becomes a man obsessed - he simply will not rest until Troy has been brought to justice.

When Troy blows it and, after a daring escape attempt at an airport, gets caught by Archer and his crew, it looks like the game is over until the feds find out that the Troy brothers have planted a massive bomb somewhere in the middle of Los Angeles. The only ones who know the location are Castor and Pollux and with Castor in a coma, Pollux isn't talking. Archer knows that if something isn't done, thousands will die and so he agrees to undergo a radical surgical procedure where Castor Troy's face is cut off of his body and swapped with his own face, cut off and stored in safe keeping to be reattached once the mission is over. Archer, now Castor Troy's exact doppelganger, goes undercover in a maximum-security prison to try and find out from Pollux where the bomb is. Meanwhile, Castor wakes up from his Coma, has Archer's face put onto his body, kills everyone who knows about Archer's undercover mission, and proceeds to replace Archer in the bureau and at home.

Archer as Castor goes into the criminal underworld and attempts to make amends to his Castor's girlfriend, Sasha (Gina Gershon), while Castor as Archer becomes a star crime-buster thanks to his intimate knowledge and connections to various criminal factions. As each of the two men become more entwined with one another's lives, their actions begin to affect those around them as they begin a game of cat and mouse that will settle their longstanding rivalry once and for all and leave a whole lot of people dead in its wake.

Featuring some great performances from Travolta and Cage, both of whom go over the top as needed and who bring a really manic enthusiasm to the film, Face/Off is pretty goofy but the fact remains, the movie is a blast. Woo pulls out all the stops and bombards us with the high-octane hyper-violence he's known for as well as no small amount of melodrama to make us care about a few key characters whether we want to or not. Sure the whole thing has plot holes a mile wide and if you haven't thrown logic completely out the window ten-minutes into the movie you're going to be disappointed but this is an action movie first and foremost, not a serious piece on how human being react to losing their identity. Aside from the lead performances, the film also benefits from some pretty insane action set pieces. Gun play abounds throughout the film with some great shoot outs taking place in the airport, a sleek LA apartment, and of course a beach side church (which allows Woo to use plenty of birds and wind-blown slow motion photography) but on top of that we also get one of the coolest boat chase sequences ever committed to film.

Strong supporting performances from Nivola as the creepy brother and Gershon and Allen as the sympathetic women caught up in the insanity their respective love interests have brought them give the picture a bit of emotional context. They definitely humanize the picture and provide much of the skeleton on which Woo hangs the more dramatic moments that are scattered between the shoot outs and explosions.

The movie is full of clich├ęs and the science behind the premise is completely shaky at best. There are a few scenes that go on too long and the melodrama is so sickly sweet that you'll have trouble not laughing at a few moments but this doesn't matter. Face/Off has got plenty of flaws and it's not difficult at all to tear the film a new one if that's your bag but Woo has delivered an action movie for action movie fans. He's not trying to create high art (though there are times here where he comes surprisingly close), he's creating entertainment and on that level alone Face/Off works extremely well.

The DVD:

Video:

The 2.35.1 VC-1 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer that Paramount has given this HD-DVD release of Face/Off is excellent. Colors look intentionally muted in a few scenes (the opening scene on the merry-go-round being a perfect example) but aside from that we've got a very sharp, detailed picture with very strong black levels and very little grain or print damage. Some slight edge enhancement is noticeable in a few scenes but there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts to report. The detail in the foreground and the background is exceptional, just check out the close ups that Woo employs during the stand off in the church towards the end of the film - you can almost count the hairs no Nicholas Cage's eyebrows. Even scenes that are typically a little harder to encode - the boat explosions for example - look really strong on this disc. Edge enhancement aside, Paramount has done a pretty solid job on the visuals for this release.

Sound:

Paramount provides audio options in English Dolby Digital Plus EX 5.1 Surround Sound, English DTS ES 6.1 Surround Sound, French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround Sound and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish and closed captioning available in English only.

Both the English Dolby Digital and DTS tracks sound very good with the DTS mix sounding a little more full thanks to the rear center channel. The DTS mix is also noticeably louder than it's Dolby Digital counterpart with slightly stronger bass. Either way, regardless of which option you choose, you're not going to find much to complain about. Bass response is strong across the board with the subwoofer bringing the explosions and gunshots to life. Rears are used very nicely during the shootouts and action scenes and to provide some ambient noise during some of the more relaxed moments in the film. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion whatsoever.

Extras:

Paramount has split the extras for this release over two discs and everything that appeared on the recent standard definition 2 disc DVD release has been carried over to this HD-DVD upgrade. Here's a look at what you'll find and where you'll find it:

Disc One:

First up is a commentary track with John Woo, joined here by writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary. This is a fairly interesting track even if at times it gets a little dry. Woo talks about some of the action choreography and cinematography while the writers elaborate on some of the plot details and character traits and between the three participants we get a pretty well-rounded discussion about what went into getting this project off the ground. A second commentary track features Mike Werb and Michael Colleary without any input from Woo and to be honest, this track is a bit of a disappointment primarily because Werb and Colleary cover so much of the same ground that was covered in the first track. As such, it kind of leaves us wondering what the point of the second commentary track really was though to the writers' credit they do expand on a few plot points in this track that they don't cover in the first one which does give it some value.

From there, check out the seven deleted scenes that are available with or without an optional commentary from Woo, Werb and Colleary. With a combined running time of 8:18, these are pretty brief but still worth reviewing. The scenes are titled as follows: Castor Kills The Janitor, Archer Weeps, Childhood Lessons, Hideaway Shootout, Archer Versus Castor Finale, Will Dad Be Dad Again?, and the Alternate Ending. The titles of the scenes more or less explain what they're about. As far as the alternate ending goes, without wanting to ruin it for those who haven't seen it, let it suffice to say that Woo and company made the right decision to chop this one and go with the version we see in the film. The commentary basically explains why these scenes were not used and where they would fit within the film. Don't expect the video quality of these excised scenes to match that of the feature, as they're in noticeably rougher shape, but that said, they're all completely watchable.

Disc Two:

The second disc kicks off with The Light And Dark: The Making Of Face/Off, which is a sixty-four minute five-part documentary that takes a look at how the film was put together. You've got the option of watching each of the five parts (Science Fiction/Human Emotion 9:45, Cast/Characters 17:22, Woo/Hollywood 21:34, Practical/Visual Effects 9:42, and Future/Past 5:58) on their own or through a 'play all' function. By way of some interesting interviews with the principal cast and crew members and of course the director himself, this extensive look at the making of the film is pretty interesting stuff. Along with the interviews we're also treated to a wealth of behind the scenes footage shot on set during the production as well as some effects footage and even some storyboards (illustrated by Woo himself). It's interesting to hear how the film was originally devised as a sci-fi project, and obviously elements of that remain, but that many of those elements were removed to give the film a more dramatic and human feel. While there's a bit of crossover between what's covered here and what's covered in the commentary tracks, there's still plenty of new material in here to make it worth watching.

From there, check out John Woo: A Life In Pictures, a twenty-six minute documentary that covers John Woo's life and his work in cinema. We learn about his childhood in his own words (Woo narrates this piece himself) and from there learn how he started in the Hong Kong film industry to soon become one of that nation's most important cinematic figures. His Hollywood films are covered as are many of his Hong Kong pictures, and while this won't give established fans of the director any new information to chew on, it is a decent, basic overview of the man and his movies.

Finishing off the second disc is the film's theatrical trailer, presented here in anamorphic widescreen. All of the supplements on both discs are presented in high definition, which is nice to see, and both discs feature some slick animated menus and chapter stops.

Final Thoughts:

Face/Off might be ridiculous and it might suffer from some massive logic gaps but that doesn't change the fact that this movie remains a whole lot of fun. Woo loads the film with plenty of style and some fantastic action scenes while Cage and Travolta ham it up as best they can resulting in a big budget B-movie that entertains from start to finish. Paramount's HD-DVD doesn't give us anything we haven't already seen in terms of extra features but the upgraded audio and video are definitely impressive. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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