Blu Ray Film Reviews – Face/Off

The German blu ray edition of Face/Off - Case CoverThis is the German blu ray region free edition of Face/Off.

John Woo directs Face/Off, the script for the film was originally set far into the future but Woo felt it would be more dramatic if set in the present, as always the film features Woo's trademark of frantic action scenes featuring two handguns, slow motion and the peace emblem of white doves.

The prison in the movie is called Erewhon, thats an anagram for nowhere. It's also a reference to Samuel Butler's novel, Erewhon.

The studio wanted to remove the slash in Face/Off but John Woo fought to keep it in because he didn't want people thinking the film was about hockey.

In the prison there is a scene where you see a box marked Ingen, InGen is the name of the company that cloned the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, it also means no one in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

Arnold Schwarzenneger and Sylvester Stallone were originally considered to play the parts of Castor Troy and Sean Archer, also originally considered were Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford, Douglas would go on to executive produce the film and John Woo got his wish to cast Nicolas Cage and John Travolta.

Nicolas Cage originally turned down the part of Castor Troy as he did not want to play the villian, he came onboard once he read the script and realised he would also get the chance to play the hero.


Film Plot

FBI Agent, Sean Archer finally catches terrorist, Castor Troy, who killed his son, Troy tells him there is a bomb that will go off killing many people which leads to a fight and Troy ending up comatose, Archer decides to go under the knife in a new medical procedure which will see Archer's face removed and replaced with that of Castor Troy, this allows him to go undercover in the prison where Troy's brother, Pollux, is serving time, he hopes to get information about the bomb but nothing ever goes to plan and Troy wakes up and takes Archer's face and then the fun really begins.

The scene is now set for what will be a final and deciding Face/Off between two old foes who have a deep hatred for one another, who will survive the final showdown!


Positives

Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in Face/OffIf this film was made by any other director it would probably not have been as effective, John Woo brings his unique style to Face/Off, this involves some truly amazing action set pieces which were filmed without the aid of CGI and are all the better for it, just some good old fashioned stuntwork and this keeps you hooked and has you enthralled in the onscreen mayhem that unfolds before your very eyes.

John Woo had been making these sort of action films for years in Hong Kong but Hollywood provides him with the sort of budget that allows for more creativity and even bigger explosions, if you have ever seen the excellent Hard Boiled, Bullet In The Head or The Killer then you will know just how capable Mr Woo is when making this type of film.

John Travolta and Nicolas Cage are both excellent in their twin roles of hero and villian, they switch effortlessly between characters and both play the good guy and bad guy to perfection, they seem to be enjoying themselves and chew up the scenery with their performances.

I thought the music score enhanced the film, its all too easy for an action film to have a predictable run of the mill score, i consider this to be a cut above the usual film score given to these type of movies, i also thought the cinematography was good and aided in telling the story, the sound design is also effective and overall the entire production is slick and i am so glad this film got an R rating, if they were making this today they would probably try and water it down to PG-13 just to try and make more money and this would ruin the film.


Negatives

I felt some of the performances were not as good as the two lead actors, i was particularly disappointed with Joan Allen, she is a talented actress and has shown this in films such as Nixon, Pleasantville and The Ice Storm but here she seems less effective, its probably just the script and she is unable to do much with what they gave her, not surprising really as this film is an action vehicle for the two leads and the supporting cast have much less to do.

You could ask yourself why Archer's wife doesn't seem to know that Troy Castor is impersonating her husband, i mean surely he has different mannerisms and behaviour to her real husband, no matter that he looks the same he would surely be behaving differently, i suppose it's possible that he isn't around that much because of his work and his wife therefore does not notice the little things anymore.


Image Quality

Nicolas Cage is a badass in Face/OffReleased in it's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this is an AVC encode, it uses 34.4GB of the disc capacity and has a healthy bitrate.

The USA edition has far too much DNR which results in a smooth non film like look and at times the faces appear waxy, detail on that edition is obviously impacted because of those factors and it also contains edge enhancement, this German edition has a very thin layer of grain running throughout the movie, although i do think some mild DNR has been used, its less than on the USA edition, detail levels are slightly better, it looks a little bit more film like and certainly better than the aforementioned USA version but just like that version it also has some edge enhancement, i noticed this issue mostly during daylight scenes when there was a medium to long distance camera shot and anyone was wearing dark outfits, edge enhancement is very annoying, i can think of no reason why they would sharpen the film other than the fact that some DNR has been used and it is probably on the master they are using and i also think that master is the same as the USA edition and its probably been a little filtered and a little sharpened, they shouldn't be doing this directly to their masters.

There are some decent closeups in this film which do not appear to have been edge enhanced and at times the image detail on display is reasonable, the individual stubble on John Travolta's face looks quite good in those scenes. At various moments during the movie you may notice some pops and speckles onscreen, i personally never have a problem with those and it makes me feel like i am watching a film presentation. I felt the encoding job was good and i did not detect any issues with compression artifacts, i feel it will take a new 4K film scan for this to look its very best.

Its a shame that every single release of Face/Off on blu ray suffers from edge enhancement and some level of DNR, having said that i do feel this edition is an upgrade over the USA version and depending on your size of screen and sensitivity to EE/DNR you may not be bothered as much as i was and it may be a non issue for you. This issue of EE/DNR is in my opinion a result of using an old master and could easily be fixed by creating a new one, well its the 15th anniversary next year so maybe they will create a new master.


Sound Quality

You get an english PCM track on this disc, it's 5.1 at 4.6mbp/s, its a 16 bit track only, the disc also contains a German and Italian DTS track at 1.5mbp/s, those tracks are 24 bit, i did not check out any differences between them since i am more concerned with listening to the film in it's original english soundtrack and i would likely be hearing volume differences rather than any real differences should i try and compare both.

The sound mix on Face/Off is exciting, as it should be for an action film, the opening action scene when Archer corners Castor near the jet engine has a nice bass moment and if your subwoofer is capable you will feel that moment, not just hear it, the shootout's in this film have nice depth and directionality to them, overall it's a good, clean and involving sound mix, all your speakers get a workout and the subwoofer goes deep, i never had a problem with hearing speech despite all the loud action scenes. This may not be the best ever sound mix but it delivers where it counts and enhances the film.


Final Thoughts

John Travolta switches faces in Face/OffWhen this film came out it was a breath of fresh air, it gave us a new type of action film bolstered by the fantastic direction of John Woo, look at the type of big budget action film being made in 2011, most of it is PG-13 rubbish, the world is crying out for some great no holds barred action flicks but the studio's keep churning out "safe" by the numbers films aimed at a young teenage audience, none of them want to take a risk anymore and the formula is to overload the film with CGI "stuntwork."

The operation scenes in Face/Off reminded me of a French film called Eyes Without A Face aka Les yeux sans visage, that one is pretty creepy and was ahead of it's time and had a fab music score by Maurice Jarre, i feel Woo or the scriptwriter of Face/Off probably at one point watched that film and they were inspired by it, that's not a bad thing though and every film maker is inspired by what they saw in their youth when growing up.

Mr Woo was short changed by Tom Cruise when he directed Mission Impossible II, Cruise sat in on the editing of that film and did not allow Woo any real creative control once the film was completed and indeed they argued during the making of it, i feel that particular film would have been better if John Woo had been allowed into the editing room, Face/Off is one of the films that brought Woo to the attention of Cruise and got him that gig, they should have trusted him more on that film.

I am pleased i bought this German edition of Face/Off instead of the USA release because it is an improvement over that one, its a shame the audio commentary and deleted scenes are missing, i feel the edge enhancement is also a major problem but this edition of the film is currently the best version available anywhere in the world, i have no doubt that the future will see a better release but until that day comes this is about as good as it gets.

View some blu ray screencaps of Face/Off here.