Some movies are pure, iconic Nicolas Cage. For a movie to qualify as a truly unadulterated Nic Cage film, there should be a resounding “Yes” to at least three of the following questions:
- Are there any bizarre Nicolas Cage facial expressions?
- Does he have any memorably weird lines?
- Are there any outrageously strange visuals?
- Do we get to hear any iconic Nic Cage screaming?
I can confidently say that the action/thriller movie, Face/Off, checks off all of these boxes.
And yes, Face/Off is indeed the movie with the infamous Hallelujah choir scene — a scene so weird that no one can forget it. This is one of the earliest scenes of the movie, and as odd as it is, it definitely prepares you for the rollercoaster ride that is to come.
FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) survives a murder attempt by the violent criminal Castor Troy (Cage), but Archer’s five-year-old son becomes an unintended casualty of Troy’s hit. Archer spends the next several years trying to avenge his son’s death, determined to capture Troy — dead or alive.
When Archer’s team finally busts Troy and his accomplices, Troy taunts Archer by alluding to a bomb that he’s placed somewhere in Los Angeles — right before Troy is knocked into a coma. The FBI is desperate to find where this bomb might be, but have no leads except for Castor Troy’s brother, Pollux, who is in federal custody and refusing to talk.
Archer’s colleagues come to him with a secret plan to get Pollux Troy to talk. They will perform a radical new surgery, transplanting the comatose Castor’s face onto Archer’s along with voice manipulation technology so Archer will look and sound exactly like Castor Troy. With the resemblance so perfect (please don’t worry about their drastically different body types), Archer can infiltrate the federal prison where Pollux is being held, pretend to be Castor, and find out where the bomb is located.
Archer begrudgingly agrees to the procedure with the understanding that he’ll get his old face back when this is over. The surgeons perform the operation flawlessly (no bruises, no cuts, no swelling), and Archer takes one look at his face… and totally freaks out.
For all the hype about how there are little to no physical side effects, Archer’s colleagues may have forgotten to account for massive psychological trauma.
This is where the movie gets more fun. Now, we have Nicolas Cage playing John Travolta, struggling to pretend he’s Nicolas Cage.
Archer-as-Troy infiltrates the prison, locates Troy’s brother, and gets the needed information on the bomb’s location. So this should be over now, right?
Nope! Because Troy just woke up from his coma! Apparently, no one thought it might be a good idea to have some security guards nearby in the event this could happen, so Troy is free to wander around completely unsupervised. The only problem? His face is gone.
Castor Troy is a malevolent, murderous psychopath, but for a full minute, it is so easy to feel sorry for him. The anguish is just that palpable. It’s impossible not to wince when he makes the horrifying discovery.
But you don’t feel sorry for long. About a minute later, Troy’s on the phone with his gang, having them haul in everyone involved in the surgery, and forcing the team to transplant Archer’s face onto his. Then he murders everyone who knew about the procedure and destroys all the evidence.
It’s safe to say that Archer’s colleagues dropped several balls when planning this whole operation.
Now, Sean Archer is trapped in a high-security prison with no one on the outside who knows what’s happened to him. And to make matters worse, there’s a homicidal maniac gleefully running around wearing his face, abusing his government position, and having marital relationships with his wife.
And this is where the movie gets even better.
Face/Off showcases Nicolas Cage at his prime Nicolas Cage-ness. We are treated to a wide array of hilariously iconic Cage expressions, some memorable lines (horribly disturbing, but nonetheless memorable — “I can eat a peach for hours.”), and there are numerous over-the-top Cage screaming moments. He has plenty of room to embrace extreme behavior as both Castor Troy and Sean Archer.
And technically, we get a second Nicolas Cage performance in the same movie courtesy of John Travolta when he has to switch to playing Cage’s character.
I have to say, John Travolta almost gives Nic Cage himself a run for his money. Travolta is clearly having an awesome time with this role. He is giving 110 percent to this performance. He’s playing Cage playing a total lunatic. What could be more fun?
It’s clear both actors put a lot of work into playing each other and learning each other's mannerisms. The result is that this ludicrous movie actually feels weirdly believable.
What's great about Face/Off is that there is always something to react to. The thrilling action scenes are executed masterfully by director John Woo. You can feel the discomfort of the surgery (plus Cage and Travolta's reactions), the hilarity (mixed with horror) at Cage and Travolta's over-the-top performances, and the anxiety of Troy-as-Archer interacting with Archer's unsuspecting family. And despite all that, Face/Off has a consistently suspenseful tone and a sense of urgency that keeps the audience invested.
If you're a classic Nicolas Cage fan and love action movies with a dash of sci-fi, you'll definitely enjoy Face/Off. You have to suspend some disbelief when it comes to the story's logic and basic common sense, but that's easy to overlook — we're not here for logic; we're here for explosions, gun fights, suspense, and wildly hilarious performances.
Face/Off is streaming now on Amazon Prime.