Yes, in 1996 and 1997 Cage was in those three films in a row, each one more fantastic than the last. Today we're going to focus on Face/Off and my major problem with it. Now, I'm not saying that it isn't a great movie, it really is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies of all time. But, after watching it last night I have some major beef with it that I must have choked down and ignored for many, many years.
There is no hero in Face/Off. Now, director John Woo, the writers and every actor in the film probably thinks that this is an idiotic hot take and that FBI superagent Sean Archer (played by John Travolta before the faces come off and get swapped and all that hullabaloo) is clearly who we are supposed to be rooting for.
Archer is one of the least likable characters to ever grace the screen and at no point am I ever rooting for him in the slightest. It's not that I'm rooting for Castor Troy, even if he has that awesome case of accoutrements presented to him after he steps out of a car with his dope duster blowing in the wind. He wants to blow up a bunch of Supreme Court justices and half of LA, which I just can't find myself getting on board with. So this isn't a rooting for the bad guy situation, it's that I completely hate and fail to have any empathy for the good guy.
Some of my reasons are petty/trivial. Others are pretty goddamn glaring personality flaws that I just can't let go. Without any further ado, let's break down why Sean Archer sucks.
His obsession over capturing Castor Troy has destroyed countless lives
If we learn anything from the opening 15 minutes of this movie it is that Archer will do absolutely anything to get Castor Troy. Motivated by revenge after Troy murdered his son, we understand why this case is important to Archer, but good lord is he reckless. From the second he is screaming in Margaret Cho's face about taking a break when the case breaks, we know that he is a horrible ball buster of a boss, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. In quick succession he plays chicken with a jet, steals a helicopter and crashes it into said jet, and gets in a huge shootout where lots of feds die. The next day when the coworkers that survived want to take a second to revel in the success, Archer fakes sympathy for the ones who passed. Dude, it was your reckless cowboy act that got all of them killed, and something tells me this was far from the first time this sort of shit had gone down. I'm guessing there's an entire wing of a secret FBI cemetery filled with men and women who had the misfortune of working for Sean Archer.
That weird face thing is beyond creepy
Families tend to have little traditions and idiosyncrasies that seem strange from the outside looking in. For example, I sometimes call my mom "Ship." This is short for "Mothership" and is something I started when I was obsessed with aliens as a wee one. As odd as this may be, it is light years more normal than that weird hand/face shit that Archer does with his family and the random child of his archenemy (much more on that later). I don't know about you, but I never want anyone's hand up in my grill. Especially not my dad's. It's disgusting. Why do you think rubbing your hand down my face is a sign of fucking affection? My stomach churns every single time it is done in the movie. There is no way the man that does this to his family is in his right mind, this is the act of a crazy person. Another strike against Archer.
Archer's morals fluctuate wildly
Every single movie involving an undercover cop has the some variation of the exact same scene—shit's going down and our hero can't bring himself to kill the other cop. It lets you know that the hero is still good deep down and that we should be pulling for him. Archer, on the other hand, does a really shitty job at this. There are two examples of him saving fellow "good guys" in the heat of action—when he makes Dubov let two guards go in the prison break and when he knocks out his buddy and shoots in the ground during the raid at the drug dealer's really sweet loft. But here's the problem, Archer is killing motherfuckers left and right within seconds of both of these actions of mercy. He threw fucking sulphuric acid at a couple of guards and shot the bottle, not exactly the actions of someone trying to save his fellow boys in blue. Sure, they show him shoot a couple people in the feet or legs, but he also guns down folks indiscriminately. Another sign that Archer is only out for his own mission of vengeance and not worth rooting for.
Archer treats his daughter like shit
It's not that he's just trying to give her some tough love, he's a complete asshole. He doesn't care at all about what she is going through with the death of her brother, he just makes her feel like garbage as she struggles to deal with her feelings. I wish she didn't shoot wide and gave this film the ending it really deserved.
|See how cool Jamie is, she has a Voodoo Glow Skulls poster!
It's remarkable how terrible Archer is at being a cop. Remember back in the prison when our supposed hero was posing as Castor Troy and getting the info about the bomb out of his brother Pollux? The dude gave up the ruse within .8 seconds of finding out where the bomb was. Wouldn't it have been useful to, oh I don't know, wait until he was out of the fucking underwater secret magnet prison before turning on his one ally?
He's a real buzzkill to do drugs with
I don't feel like I need to belabor this point any further.
Dude is a terrible person to go on a date with
In order to win over Eve and let her know that he is really her husband with some other dude's face on, Archer tells the story of their first date. And it sounds, to be kind, horrific. Here's the explanation in its entirety: "I was thinking the other day, I remember I once took a date out for surf and turf, not knowing she was a vegetarian, so she ate bread and broke her tooth on a rice seed. We drove around all night, looking for an all night dentist, and he was so drunk he fixed the wrong tooth, when I finally brought her home, even though it must've hurt like hell, you kissed me." There is so much terrible to unpack here, but on the bright side, at least he tried to kiss her instead of doing that fucking hand/face thing.
Archer treats orphans like they are lost puppies
This is my number one beef with Sean Archer. After he gets his regular face back on his grill, but strangely doesn't fix the butt chin, he shows up at home with a kid and asks his traumatized wife and daughter if he can keep him. This is so fucked up. The fact that the kid is the same age as Archer's dead son, and looks a bit like him, barely even scratches the surface of what's wrong here. How in the name of God did Child Services let him skip the entire bureaucracy and just waltz home with the kid that he orphaned?! Archer killed, or at least was responsible for the death of, this kid's parents. Don't tell me that isn't going to lead to some awkward family dinners once he hits his teens.
All of this being said, I absolutely adore Face/Off. It is probably my favorite of the Nic Cage Trilogy of Awesomeness© even if I'm actively rooting against the hero. Somehow I managed to write over 1500 words about Face/Off without once mentioning that the incredibly forced joke about having a stick surgically removed from Archer's ass is one of my favorite uncomfortable movie moments of all time. Kudos to you, Margaret Cho! Do yourself a favor, dear reader, grab yourself a peach and fire Face/Off up on the Netflix machine right now.