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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
Paramount Pictures
Touchstone Pictures
Permut Presentations
Distributed by North America:
Paramount Pictures
Buena Vista International
Release date(s)
  • 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 is an FBI agent and Cage is a terrorist, sworn enemies who assume the physical appearance of one another.[3] The film exemplifies Woo's signature gun fu and heroic bloodshed action sequences, and has Travolta and Cage each playing two personalities. It was the first Hollywood film in which Woo was given complete creative control and was acclaimed by both audiences and critics. Eventually grossing $245 million worldwide, Face/Off was a financial success, and has since become a cult classic. [4]


FBI Special Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has a personal vendetta against civil freelance terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) after Castor killed Archer's son Michael while trying to assassinate Archer. Archer learns of Castor's brother, Pollux Troy, making arrangements for a private jet, and sets a trap to capture both Castor and Pollux. After an intense firefight, Archer corners Castor, who gloats about a bomb he has planted somewhere in Los Angeles, but he is knocked into a coma after he tries to pull a knife on Archer.

Although the plans for the bomb are found in Pollux's suitcase, Archer has no clue to its location. At the request of a special ops agent, he reluctantly agrees to undergo an experimental face transplant surgery, giving him the appearance of Castor; this process is only known to Archer's partner and close friend Tito, and the surgeon conducting the procedure, Dr. Malcolm Walsh. The medical operation is a success: Archer's hair, muscles and other necessary physical parts are altered into Castor's and his face is switched with Castor's, whose now faceless head is bandaged and Archer's face is stored in a tank of water. Archer (now played by Cage) is taken to an offshore high security penitentiary, Erewhon Prison, and meets with Pollux, eventually gaining his confidence to learn the bomb's location.

Shortly after Archer gets the information he needs from Pollux, he is surprised when he is visited by Castor (now played by Travolta), who has awoken from his coma, forced Dr. Walsh to give him Archer's face, then killed him and everyone with knowledge of the transplant surgery, and boasts how he plans to abuse Archer's job, and toy with his wife Eve and teenage daughter Jamie.

With Archer's face, Castor releases Pollux from prison by having him "confess" the location of their bomb so that Castor can "locate" it and play hero by disarming it single-handedly. Castor's offbeat personality earns him respect that Archer never received, as Archer is more prone to ruining celebrations with reminders of the loss of life involved. Simultaneously, Archer escapes from Erewhon by staging a jailbreak, taking out several guards on the way.

By this point, both men begin to see how their pursuits of each other affect the people around them. Castor is much more affectionate and tender with Eve, even beating up a boy who attempts to rape Jamie, and also figures out that Jamie has never forgiven her father for failing to protect them after her brother's death. Meanwhile, Archer visits Castor's bomb supplier Dietrich Hassler and his sister, Castor's ex-girlfriend Sasha, and finds that Sasha's son Adam, whom he earlier had threatened to put in child protective services, is also Castor's child. Archer finds Sasha to be a caring mother trying to raise her son all alone in rough conditions and regrets threatening her earlier.

When Castor learns of the prison break, he realizes that Archer will connect with his gang, and leads an FBI raid of his headquarters. An intense shootout ensues in which most of Castor's old network is killed, including Pollux, and Archer is seriously wounded. The next day, Castor is berated by the FBI Assistant Director in Charge Victor Lazarro, then kills Lazarro in a fit of rage and makes it look like a heart attack. Castor himself is promoted to acting Assistant Director in Charge, making him virtually untouchable. Meanwhile, Archer returns to his home and convinces Eve, a doctor herself, that he is Archer, which she later confirms via a blood sample she takes from Castor while he is sleeping. She helps tend to his wounds, and explains that Castor will be at Lazarro's funeral the next day.

Archer waits to confront Castor after the funeral, but finds that Castor has taken Eve hostage. A gunfight ensues between Castor, Archer, and Castor's gang, under Archer's orders. Sasha helps rescue Eve, but takes a bullet in protecting Archer; he promises to look after Adam as she dies. Castor attempts to take Jamie hostage, but she retaliates by stabbing him in his thigh with a butterfly knife that Castor had taught her how to use. Castor tries to escape using a nearby speedboat, followed closely by Archer. The two boats crash ashore, and the two men turn to melee. Castor, finding himself being overpowered, attempts to damage Archer's own face on himself as to make it unusable by Archer, but Archer kills him using a spear gun. As the FBI arrive, Eve is able to explain Archer's true identity. With the face transplant surgery reversed, Archer (Travolta) returns to his family, helping to welcome Adam into his family, fulfilling his promise 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]

When John Woo was initially offered the chance to direct, he declined unless the studio agreed to give him more creative control than he had received on his previous American films. Travolta had previously starred in Woo's Broken Arrow (Cage was later to star in another Woo film, Windtalkers). Woo set the film in the present so he could focus on the psychological elements of the story, such as how the feud between the two men affects those close to them — such as Sasha, Adam, and Archer's family.[citation needed]

The names Castor and Pollux come from a pair of brothers in Greek mythology that make up the Gemini constellation. The story itself, most notably the hatred between Archer and Castor, is very similar to that of Hector and Achilles, who fought against each other in the Trojan War. Additional influences may have come from the fact that the Greek and Roman god of archery, Apollo, was closely related with the city of Troy. The Archer is also the symbol of the Sagittarius constellation, symbolizing the clash between the opposing Sagittarius and Gemini constellations.[citation needed]

Additional symbolism is that Pollux is held at Erehwon, a prison so secret that even the inmates do not know its location. "Erehwon" is "nowhere" in reverse, an idea that also occurs in an allegorical novel by Samuel Butler.[citation needed]

The battle in the church, which includes doves flying around, is similar to the final confrontation in Woo's classic 1989 Hong Kong film The Killer.[citation needed]

With an $80 million production budget, Face/Off made heavy use of action set pieces including several violent shootouts and a boat chase while being filmed in the Los Angeles area. The boat scene at the end of the film was shot in San Diego.[6][7]


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][8]

The Region 1 DVD of Face/Off was one of the first films to be released on the format on October 7, 1998.[9] 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.[10] The new DVD is a 2-disc set including 7 deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and several featurettes.[11]

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.[12]


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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15]

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."[16]

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."[17] On Metacritic, the film received a metascore of 82 out of 100 from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18] 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.[19]


Face/Off: Original Soundtrack
Film score by John Powell
Released July 1, 1997
April 26, 2006
Length 41:42
Label Hollywood
Producer Hans Zimmer[20]
John Powell chronology
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 1.5/5 stars[21]

The Face/Off soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on July 1, 1997, the week following the film's release.[22]

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.[23] 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. ^ "Filming locations for Face/Off". IMDB. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  8. ^ "Release dates for Face/Off". IMDb. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  9. ^ "DVD details for Face/Off". IMDb. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  10. ^ Perenson, Melissa J. (2007-01-18). "New HD Disc Titles, New HD Disc Technology". PC World. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  11. ^ "Face/Off (US - DVD R1 | HD | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive". Dvdactive.com. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  12. ^ "Breaking: Paramount Unveils Blu-ray Launch Plans". High-Def Digest. 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (1997-06-27). "Face/Off". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  14. ^ Travers, Peter (2001-02-09). "Face/Off". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  15. ^ Corliss, Richard (1997-06-30). "ONE DUMB SUMMER: Reviews". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  16. ^ Shulgasser, Barbara (1997-06-27). "Trading Faces". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  17. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/faceoff/
  18. ^ "Face/Off Reviews-Metacritic". 
  19. ^ "Face/Off awards". IMDb. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  20. ^ "Face Off Original Soundtrack by John Powell". ARTISTdirect. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  21. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Review: Face/Off - John Powell". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  22. ^ "Face/Off Soundtrack CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  23. ^ "Soundtracks for Face/Off". IMDB. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 

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