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FaceOff (1997 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Woo
Produced by
Written by
Music by John Powell
Cinematography Oliver Wood
Edited by Christian Wagner
Distributed by
Release date
  • June 27, 1997 (1997-06-27)
Running time
139 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million[2]
Box office $245.7 million[2]

Face/Off is a 1997 American science fiction action film directed by John Woo, written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, and starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Travolta plays an FBI agent and Cage plays a terrorist, sworn enemies who assume each other's physical appearance.[3]

The first Hollywood film in which Woo was given major creative control, Face/Off earned favorable reviews and grossed $245 million worldwide. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger) at the 70th Academy Awards.


FBI Special Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) survives an assassination attempt by freelance domestic terrorist and homicidal sociopath Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), but the bullet pierces through Sean's chest and strikes his son Michael, killing the boy.

Six years later, Sean's vendetta against Castor culminates in his team's ambush of Castor and his younger brother/accomplice Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) at Los Angeles International Airport. Castor goads Archer with knowledge of a bomb located somewhere in the city set to go off in a few days, but he is knocked into a coma before Archer can learn more.

Sean affirms the threat is real, but is unable to convince Pollux to reveal where the bomb is located. At suggestion of his partner Tito Biondi (Robert Wisdom) and Special Ops specialist Dr. Hollis Miller (CCH Pounder), Sean secretly undergoes a highly experimental face transplant procedure by Dr. Malcolm Walsh (Colm Feore) to take on Castor's face and appearance. Sean is taken to the same high-security prison where Pollux is, and slowly convinces Pollux that he is Castor, gaining information on the bomb's location. Meanwhile, Castor wakes up from his coma prematurely and discovers his face missing. He calls his gang, and they force Dr. Walsh to put Sean's face on him.

Castor visits the prison and surprises Sean. He taunts his nemesis with how he burned down Dr. Walsh's lab with Walsh, Tito and Miller inside to eliminate all evidence of their switch and will take over Sean's life. He leaves Sean to languish while he convinces Pollux to "reveal" the bomb's location in exchange for release from prison. Disarming his bomb in a dramatic fashion, Castor-as-Sean gains respect from Sean's fellow FBI colleagues. Castor gets close to Sean's family that Sean neglected over his vendetta: he romances his wife Eve (Joan Allen) and saves his daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain) from an attempted rapist.

Sean escapes after staging a riot, and retreats to Castor's headquarters. There, Sean meets Sasha (Gina Gershon), the sister of Castor's primary drug kingpin, and her son Adam who reminds Sean of Michael. Sean learns that Adam is Castor's son, whom he once had planned to put under foster care. Castor learns of Sean's escape and hastily assembles a team to raid his headquarters. The raid quickly turns into a bloodbath, killing numerous FBI agents and several members of Castor's gang, including Pollux; Sean, Sasha, and Adam are able to escape. Sean's supervisor, Director Victor Lazarro (Harve Presnell) blames Castor for the numerous slayings. Castor, furious over Pollux's death, kills Victor and makes it look like a heart attack. Castor-as-Sean is promoted to Acting Director as plans are made for Lazarro's funeral.

Sean finds safety for Sasha and Adam and approaches Eve. He persuades her to take a sample of Castor's blood and his own to compare their blood types at the hospital where she works to prove he is Sean. Convinced of her husband's identity, she tells him that Castor will be vulnerable at Lazarro's funeral. At the ceremony, Sean finds that Castor has anticipated his actions and takes Eve hostage. Sasha arrives, and a gunfight ensues; Sasha manages to save Eve after taking a bullet. Before she dies, Sean promises to take care of Adam for her and not allow him to grow up with a life of crime.

Castor flees the church with Sean pursuing him. After killing two federal agents, Castor briefly takes Jamie hostage, but she escapes by stabbing him with a butterfly knife Castor ironically gave her earlier for self-defense. A speedboat chase ensues wherein Sean forces Castor to shore by collision, then bests Castor in a melee fight. Castor mutilates his/Sean's face to taunt him but Sean kills Castor with a spear gun. FBI agents arrive and address Sean by name, having been convinced by Eve of Sean's true identity. After the face transplant surgery is undone, Sean returns home, with Adam having been adopted into his family to keep 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. The first actors who were chosen to play Sean Archer and Castor Troy were Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger respectively but John Woo instead hired John Travolta and Nicolas Cage to play those characters. It took numerous studios, producers and rewrites before John Woo became attached several years later.[4] 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.[4]

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.[5]

Calling the brothers Castor and Pollux is a reference to Greek mythology; Castor and Pollux are the twins transformed by Zeus into the constellation Gemini.


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.[2] It also became Woo's highest-grossing American film.

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.[6] The new DVD is a 2-disc set including 7 deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and several featurettes.[7]

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.[8]


The film-critics aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes records 92% positive reviews based on 83 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."[9] On Metacritic, the film received a metascore of 82 out of 100 from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[10] 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."[11] 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."[12] Richard Corliss of Time 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."[13]

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."[14]

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[15]
John Powell chronology
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 1.5/5 stars[16]

The Face/Off soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on July 1, 1997, the week following the film's release.[17]

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: 41:42

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


  1. ^ "Face/Off (18) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. November 6, 1997. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "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. ^ a b Christopher Heard. Ten thousand bullets: the cinema of John Woo. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Publ, 2000. ISBN 1-58065-021-X
  5. ^ "Face/Off". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  6. ^ Perenson, Melissa J. (2007-01-18). "New HD Disc Titles, New HD Disc Technology". PC World. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  7. ^ "Face/Off (US - DVD R1 | HD | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive". Dvdactive.com. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  8. ^ "Breaking: Paramount Unveils Blu-ray Launch Plans". High-Def Digest. 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  9. ^ Face/Off at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ Face/Off at Metacritic
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (1997-06-27). "Face/Off". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  12. ^ Travers, Peter (2001-02-09). "Face/Off". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  13. ^ Corliss, Richard (1997-06-30). "One Dumb Summer: Reviews". Time. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  14. ^ Shulgasser, Barbara (1997-06-27). "Trading Faces". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  15. ^ "Face Off Original Soundtrack by John Powell". ARTISTdirect. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  16. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Review: Face/Off - John Powell". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  17. ^ "Face/Off Soundtrack CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 

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