Face/Off is a 1997 American science fiction action thriller film directed by John Woo and starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Travolta plays an FBI agent and Cage plays a terrorist, sworn enemies who assume the physical appearances of each other. The film exemplifies Woo's signature gun fu and heroic bloodshed action sequences, and has Travolta and Cage each playing two personalities, making both actors the protagonists and antagonists at the same time. It was the first Hollywood film in which Woo was given major creative control and was acclaimed by both audiences and critics. Eventually grossing $245 million worldwide, Face/Off was a financial success. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger) at the 70th Academy Awards. The film is generally considered to be the best of John Woo's American cinematic work.
FBI Special Agent Sean Archer has a personal vendetta against civil freelance terrorist Castor Troy who six years earlier killed Archer's son Michael while trying to assassinate Archer. Archer lays an ambush to capture Castor and his younger brother and terrorist accomplice Pollux at a small Los Angeles airport. During the ambush, Castor goads Archer with knowledge of a bomb located somewhere in the city set to go off in a few days, but is knocked into a coma before Archer can learn more.
Archer affirms the threat is real, but is unable to convince Pollux to talk where the bomb is located. At suggestion of his partner Tito, Archer secretly undergoes a highly experimental face transplant procedure by Dr. Walsh to take on Castor's face and appearance. Archer is taken to the same high-security prison Pollux is at, and slowly convinces Pollux that he is Castor, and gains information on the bomb's location. Meanwhile, Castor wakes up from his coma and discovers his face missing. He calls his gang, and they force Dr. Walsh to put Archer's face on him. Castor then kills Dr. Walsh and Tito, eliminating all those that knew about the surgery, and uses his new appearance to take over Archer's life, including getting close to Archer's wife Eve and daughter Jamie. Castor visits the prison where Archer is ready to leave to goad him and leaving Archer to languish, and then goes and disarms his bomb in a dramatic fashion, gaining him respect from Archer's fellow FBI agents.
Archer starts a prison riot that allows him to escape , and he then retreats to Castor's headquarters. There, Archer meets Sasha, the sister of Castor's primary drug kingpin, and her son Adam that bears a striking resemblance to Michael. Archer learns that Adam is Castor's son. Castor learns of Archer's escape and hastily assembles a team to raid his headquarters. The raid turns bloody, killing many FBI agents and many of Castor's gang, including Pollux; Archer, Sasha, and Adam are able to escape. Archer's supervisor Director Victor Lazarro blames Castor for the numerous deaths, but Castor kills him privately, making it look like a heart attack. Castor is promoted to Acting Director as plans are made for Lazarro's funeral.
Archer finds safety for Sasha and Adam and approaches Eve; though he is unable to convince her immediately of his true identity, Eve has become suspicious enough to take a sample of Archer's blood to test. When she finds the blood matches that of her husband, she apologizes to him, and explains that while Castor is nearly untouchable with his new position, he will be vulnerable at Lazarro's funeral. At the funeral, Archer finds that Castor has anticipated his actions and takes Eve hostage. Sasha arrives, and a gunfight ensues; Sasha manages to save Eve but after fatally taking a bullet. Before she dies, Archer promises to take care of Adam for her. Castor flees the church with Archer following him. After a boat chase, Archer forces Castor to shore and kills him with a spear gun. As the FBI arrive and surround Archer, Eve is able to convince the agents this is her husband. The face transplant surgery is undone, and Archer is able to return home, with Adam having been adopted into his family to keep his promise to Sasha.
- John Travolta as Sean Archer/Castor Troy
- Nicolas Cage as Castor Troy/Sean Archer
- Joan Allen as Dr. Eve Archer
- Alessandro Nivola as Pollux Troy
- Gina Gershon as Sasha Hassler
- Dominique Swain as Jamie Archer
- Nick Cassavetes as Dietrich Hassler
- Harve Presnell as Victor Lazarro
- Colm Feore as Dr. Malcolm Walsh
- John Carroll Lynch as Guard Walton
- C. C. H. Pounder as Dr. Miller
- Robert Wisdom as Tito Biondi
- Margaret Cho as Wanda
- James Denton as Buzz
- Tommy Flanagan as Leo
- Matt Ross as Loomis
- Danny Masterson as Karl
- Chris Bauer as Ivan Dubov
Face/Off was a spec script which writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary tried to sell to a studio from as early as 1990. It took numerous studios, producers and rewrites before John Woo became attached several years later. For the Archer character, Woo considered casting either Michael Douglas or Jean-Claude Van Damme whom he had worked with in Hard Target. When the film was eventually made, Douglas served as an executive producer. Werb and Colleary have cited White Heat (1949) and Seconds (1966) as influences on the plot.
With an $80 million production budget, Face/Off made heavy use of action set pieces including several violent shootouts and a boat chase filmed in the Los Angeles area. The boat scene at the end of the film was shot in San Diego.
Face/Off was released in North America on June 27, 1997 and earned $23,387,530 on its opening weekend, ranking number one in the domestic box office. It went on to become the 11th highest domestic and 14th worldwide grossing film of 1997, earning a domestic total of $112,276,146 and $133,400,000 overseas for a total of worldwide gross of $245,676,146. It was a box office hit.
The Region 1 DVD of Face/Off was one of the first films to be released on the format on October 7, 1998. A 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD was released on September 11, 2007 and the now-defunct HD DVD on October 30, 2007 in the United States. The new DVD is a 2-disc set including 7 deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and several featurettes.
The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom on October 1, 2007 by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and was released in the United States on May 20, 2008 by Paramount Home Entertainment.
Face/Off received very positive reviews from critics and garnered high box office earnings, making it a critical and financial success. The role reversal between Travolta and Cage was a subject of praise, as were the stylized, violent action sequences. Critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four and remarked that "Here, using big movie stars and asking them to play each other, Woo and his writers find a terrific counterpoint to the action scenes: All through the movie, you find yourself reinterpreting every scene as you realize the "other" character is "really" playing it." Rolling Stoneââ'âs Peter Travers said of the film, "You may not buy the premise or the windup, but with Travolta and Cage taking comic and psychic measures of their characters and their own careers, there is no resisting Face/Off. This you gotta see." Richard Corliss of Time Magazine said that the film "isn't just a thrill ride, it's a rocket into the thrilling past, when directors could scare you with how much emotion they packed into a movie."
Some critics felt the film's violence was excessive, and that the action sequences dragged out too long. Barbara Shulgasser of the San Francisco Examiner called the movie "idiotic" and argued that "a good director would choose the best of the six ways and put it in his movie. Woo puts all six in. If you keep your eyes closed during a Woo movie and open them every six minutes, you'll see everything you need to know to have a perfectly lovely evening at the cinema."
The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes currently gives the film a "Fresh" rating of 91% based on 82 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's consensus reads: "Travolta and Cage play cat-and-mouse (and literally play each other) against a beautifully stylized backdrop of typically elegant, over-the-top John Woo violence." On Metacritic, the film received a metascore of 82 out of 100 from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger) at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to another Paramount film Titanic. Face/Off also won Saturn Awards for Best Directing and Writing, and the MTV Movie Awards for Best Action Scene (the speedboat chase) and Best Duo for Travolta and Cage.
The Face/Off soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on July 1, 1997, the week following the film's release.
All music composed by John Powell, except as noted.
Several pieces of music and songs were used in the film but not included in the soundtrack. These include:
- "Hallelujah" from oratorio Messiah â" George Frideric Handel
- Pamina's Aria "Ach, ich fÃ¼hl's" from "Die ZauberflÃ¶te" â" Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- "Prelude in D-flat, Op. 28, No. 15" ("Raindrop") â" FrÃ©dÃ©ric Chopin
- "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" â" James Brown
- "Over the Rainbow" (Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg) â" Olivia Newton-John
- "Christiansands" â" Tricky
- "Don't Lose Your Head" â" INXS
- "Miserere mei, Deus (VV.1-4 & 17-20)" â" Gregorio Allegri
- Face/Off at the Internet Movie Database
- Face/Off at the TCM Movie Database
- Face/Off at Box Office Mojo
- Face/Off at Rotten Tomatoes
- Face/Off at Metacritic