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FaceOff (1997 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Woo
Produced by David Permut
Barrie M. Osborne
Christopher Godsick
Terence Chang
Written by Mike Werb
Michael Colleary
Starring John Travolta
Nicolas Cage
Music by John Powell
Cinematography Oliver Wood
Edited by Christian Wagner
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
(United States)
Buena Vista International
Release dates
  • June 27, 1997 (1997-06-27)
Running time
139 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million[2]
Box office $245,676,146[2]

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.[3] 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 has since become a cult classic.[4]


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, but is knocked into a coma before Archer can learn more.

Archer affirms the existence and size of the bomb from Pollux' documents, but Pollux, who is a paranoid sociopath, refuses to talk to anyone but his brother. Archer is unsuccessful in interrogating the rest of Castor's gang, including drug kingpin Dietrich Hassler and his sister, Sasha, who has been convicted and put on probation for harboring Castor in the past; he even threatens Sasha that her boy will be a foster child if she does not cooperate. In the end, he is only able to acquire a date indicating when the bomb will detonate. With apparently no other options, Archer's partner and friend Tito and special ops agent Miller convince him to undergo an experimental face transplant surgery by Dr. Malcolm Walsh, replacing his face with Castor's. The procedure is kept a secret to only them. Archer is incarcerated in the same high-security prison as Pollux, and slowly works on Pollux to learn the bomb's location.

Meanwhile, Castor wakes from his coma and discovers his face missing. With the help of his henchmen Lars and Leo, Castor forces Dr. Walsh to give him Archer's face, and then kills Walsh, Tito, and Miller to prevent them from revealing the truth. Castor easily takes over Archer's life, including being with Archer's wife Eve and daughter Jamie. Castor goes to the prison to gloat to Archer, and then is able to arrange for Pollux' release under guise of sharing information, and then subsequently locates and disarms the bomb with much bravado. The FBI department is impressed with the new confidence Castor demonstrates as Archer.

Archer manages to escape from prison and finds his way to Castor's headquarters, and convinces Castor's men that he is Castor. He meets with Sasha and her boy Adam (later revealed to be Castor's son) who bears a strong resemblance to Michael. Archer takes sympathy on Sasha's attempt to lead a better life for Adam, as he finds her to be a caring mother under difficult circumstances, and regrets threatening her earlier. Castor learns of Archer's escape and arranges a large FBI team to raid his headquarters. The raid is run in haste, causing a number of agents and Castor's men to be killed. Sasha's brother Diettrich is killed by Castor while trying to protect them and Archer manages to escape with Sasha and Adam after killing Pollux. Back at the FBI headquarters, Castor is berated by Archer's supervisor and old mentor, Director Victor Lazarro, but Castor loses his patience and kills him; he is able to convince the rest of the department that Lazarro died of a heart attack, and he is promoted to Acting Director as funeral arrangements are made for Lazarro.

Archer finds Castor's promotion makes it impossible to approach him. Archer sneaks into his house to meet with Eve, and although he is not able to convince her of his identity, tells her that his blood type is different from Castor's. Eve, having noticed that her 'husband' seems different, obtains a blood sample from Castor, goes to the hospital where she works, and finds, through lab testing, that it does not match her husband's blood. When Archer sneaks into the hospital and realizes her shock at the revelation, he is finally able to convince her by recalling a date they had before they married. Eve tends to her husband's wounds and lets Archer know of Lazarro's pending funeral at which Castor will be present. Archer decides to attack Castor after the funeral.

At the funeral, Archer finds that Castor has anticipated his actions and has taken Eve hostage. Sasha suddenly appears to help Archer and avenge her brother. Leo and Lars also appear, enabling a Mexican standoff and a gunfight. Archer kills both Leo and Lars, and Sasha is able to free Eve but is fatally shot by Castor in the process, and Archer promises to Sasha that he will look after Adam for her and make sure he doesn't become a criminal; Sasha then dies from her wound. Castor attempts to take Jamie hostage, but she retaliates by stabbing him with a butterfly knife using a technique he taught her. Castor, with his identity blown, leads Archer on a speedboat chase. Archer forces Castor ashore, and attempts to subdue him through melee. Castor is cornered and attempts to cut open his attached face to prevent Archer from getting it back, but Archer finally kills Castor with a spear gun. By the time the FBI and police arrive and surround the pair, Eve has already managed to convince them of Archer's true identity.

Archer is taken to a hospital, where doctors perform a reverse face transplant to restore his identity. Now back to his former self, he returns home to his wife and daughter, and helps to introduce Adam into his new home, thus keeping the promise he made to Sasha.



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.[5] 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.[5]

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.[6]


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.[6]

The Region 1 DVD of Face/Off was one of the first films to be released on the format on October 7, 1998.[citation needed] 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.[7] The new DVD is a 2-disc set including 7 deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and several featurettes.[8]

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.[9]


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."[10] Rolling Stone‍ '​s 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."[11] 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."[12]

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."[13]

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."[14] On Metacritic, the film received a metascore of 82 out of 100 from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[15] 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.[citation needed]


Face/Off: Original Soundtrack
Film score by John Powell
Released July 1, 1997
April 26, 2006
Length 41:42
Label Hollywood
Producer Hans Zimmer[16]
John Powell chronology
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 1.5/5 stars[17]

The Face/Off soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on July 1, 1997, the week following the film's release.[18]

All music composed by John Powell, except as noted.

No. Title Music Length
1. "Face On"     4:57
2. "80 Proof Rock"     4:29
3. "Furniture"     7:12
4. "The Golden Section Derma Lift"     3:15
5. "This Ridiculous Chin"     6:51
6. "No More Drugs for That Man"   John Powell, Gavin Greenaway 7:27
7. "Hans' Loft"   John Powell, Gavin Greenaway 3:34
8. "Ready for the Big Ride‚ Bubba"     3:53
Total length:

Several pieces of music and songs were used in the film but not included in the soundtrack. These include:


  1. ^ "FACE/OFF (18/Cut)". Buena Vista International. British Board of Film Classification. November 6, 1997. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Face/Off (1997)". Box Office Mojo. August 29, 1997. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  3. ^ Turan, Kenneth (1997-06-27). "John Travolta and Nicolas Cage get under each other's skin--literally--in John Woo's return to form, 'Face/Off'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  4. ^ Yabroff, Jennie (1997-06-27). "Gentleman with a gun". Salon.com. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  5. ^ a b Christopher Heard. Ten thousand bullets: the cinema of John Woo. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Publ, 2000. ISBN 1-58065-021-X
  6. ^ a b "Face/Off". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  7. ^ Perenson, Melissa J. (2007-01-18). "New HD Disc Titles, New HD Disc Technology". PC World. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  8. ^ "Face/Off (US - DVD R1 | HD | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive". Dvdactive.com. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  9. ^ "Breaking: Paramount Unveils Blu-ray Launch Plans". High-Def Digest. 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (1997-06-27). "Face/Off". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  11. ^ Travers, Peter (2001-02-09). "Face/Off". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  12. ^ Corliss, Richard (1997-06-30). "ONE DUMB SUMMER: Reviews". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  13. ^ Shulgasser, Barbara (1997-06-27). "Trading Faces". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  14. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/faceoff/
  15. ^ "Face/Off Reviews-Metacritic". 
  16. ^ "Face Off Original Soundtrack by John Powell". ARTISTdirect. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  17. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Review: Face/Off - John Powell". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  18. ^ "Face/Off Soundtrack CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 

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