Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

MBPGSA Blog

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I Want To Take His Face... Off

All boys growing up have some action movie heroes that they idolize and aspire to become. There was Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, or Harrison Ford,  and even for some there was William Shatner. For me growing up in the 90’s there was one man who starred in three movies over the span of two summers that will be always considered in my top ten of action movies of all time. That man is Nicholas Cage, and his movies are The Rock, Con Air,and Face/Off. These movies are my guilty pleasures and they embody the hyper stylized, orchestral, explosion bloated extravaganzas that were 90’s action movies. Nothing gets me off faster than a slow motion pan of a film’s protagonist looking tense while a full string section and/or an electric guitar wails in the background, perhaps at sunset or sunrise.

Recently, I decided to revisit one of those classics, because it’s the start of summer blockbuster season, and because no one really get’s through one of these posts anyway. Here’s my take on Face/Off:

Nicholas Cage is Castor Troy, a freelance super-terrorist bent on causing mayhem on a global scale. John Travolta is Sean Archer, leader of an ultra-elite ultra-covert counter terrorist unit hunting down Castor Troy who killed his son. After planting a bomb in the LA Convention Center Castor Troy attempts to leave the country but Sean Archer gets hot on his heels, and they face off in an airport hangar, which gets Castor’s brother Pollux arrested and Castor sent into a coma. It seems like the bad guys are all done for, but no ... there is a deadly catch. The bomb is still out there and the only two people who know where it is are Castor and Pollux, but Castor is in a coma and Pollux will only talk to Castor (also Pollux is crazy). So the only thing Archer can do is take his face off and switch it with Castor’s, taking Castor’s place in Erehwon prison (get it?), and trick Pollux into giving up the bomb’s location. But, just as it seems like the ruse has been pulled off, Castor wakes up from his coma, and forces the doctors who took his face off to give him Archer’s. So, John Travolta is Castor Troy IS Sean Archer, and Nicholas Cage is Sean Archer IS Castor Troy. This subsequently leads to several face offs between the two, mixed in with epic explosions, chases, one-liners, some slow motion doves, a bunch of biblical allusions, and a sweet slow-motion gunfight between gangsters and police to the song Over The Rainbow.

Now, to the plausibility of the film. In short: it's retarded. The two men have entirely different bone structures, eye colour, and body types, yet they flawlessly are able to switch roles. I guess you have to buy the premise. Imagine if instead the actors wore prosthesis to look like on another, and they impersonated each other for the film. That would be terrible. -- When I was a kids, the face transplant bugged me, and I thought it would be more plausible if they swithced brains, but now I realize that would be even more retarded -- Also, it seems as if lasers are capable of not only making surgical incisions without cauterizing tissue (even though there's smoke), but also capable of restoring and even building healthy tissue from nothing. Working in a biophotonics lab, I would be very interested in acquiring some of this technology. There is also a bunch of other plot-holes, and I could pick nits until I have more nits then 16th century London, but the movie doesn’t expect you to care about them, and I don’t. The only thing I found really hard to swallow was John Travolta’s ability to ambidextrously fire two guns accurately while flipping through the air. Yeah right. There’s no way Danny Zuko’s hitting anything other than the ceiling. Also, the bald hardened bad-ass arms dealer is the guy who directed The Notebook. As for the performances: Nic Cage plays a really good conflicted good guy impersonating a bad guy, who happens to be the man who killed his son six years earlier. That’s really Nic Cage’s thing: playing deranged and emotionally unhinged men, but I would say John Travolta plays the better bad guy, and ultimately steals the show. Travolta’s really fun to watch. He’s convincing as a malevolent terrorist and he's incredibly charismatic. He sells some of the films best lines. He'll also all of a sudden flip out and he's really good at spewing rage and being an intimidating bad-ass. Both actors are awesome in this movie, and the movie is worth seeing just to see them embody each persona and face off against each other.

I have seen this movie about 5 times, and it will never get old. This movie really holds a dear place in my heart. It has great performances, and without hyperbole I can probably say that the film has the best action sequences that have ever come out of Hollywood -- Actually, that is false, but I’m going to say it anyway. Simply awesome.

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