What would happen if you were a law enforcement officer and you woke up one day, found yourself in prison with the face of your arch enemy? Compound this with the situation where your arch enemy has your face and is living your life. This is the quandary that John Travolta faces as FBI Agent Sean Archer in John Woo's latest thriller, Face/Off.

After six years of dedicated work, Archer finally manages to capture Castor Troy, one of the most dangerous (and charismatic) criminals the world has known, and also the murderer of Archer's young son. He then agrees to take on the face of Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), in an attempt to gain the confidence of Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola) and figure out the location of a bomb in L.A. planted by Castor and Pollux. But things go horribly wrong when Castor awakens from his coma, finds his face missing, and arranges to have Archer's face put on his faceless head.

This ends up with Archer (as Troy) being stuck in prison while the Troy brothers run free, without anyone in the world having a clue that the person imprisoned is really Sean Archer. However, Archer (as Troy) manages to escape and there begins a battle between the two protagonists for their identities and lives.

In some respects, this is a rather standard, but intelligent, action movie. What makes it work so well is the acting of Travolta and Cage, who, when they switch identities, do so convincingly. The initial shock and the adjustment period is carried out brilliantly: both characters see and appreciate what the other person's lifestyle is like. It's all the more amazing when you realise it is the same actor who just a few minutes ago played one character but now is showing surprise at being himself.

The action and comedy is quite good. The contrast between the violence and the serenity in the Church, or the gunfight set to the music of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, when Archer and Troy confront each other, is allegoric and poignant. There is a definite Quentin Tarantino feel here, especially when members of the Archer family and Troy all find themselves staring down the barrels of guns.

Amidst all the hype, that mix of ingenuity, poetry, symbolism, choreography, and cinematography is what makes this one of the better movies this summer. Definitely worth watching.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org