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Face/Off is a 1997 American 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]

FaceOff (1997 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Woo
Produced by
Written by
Music byJohn Powell
CinematographyOliver Wood
Edited byChristian Wagner
Distributed by
Release date
  • June 27, 1997 (1997-06-27)
Running time
139 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[2]
Box office$245.7 million[2]

The first Hollywood film in which Woo was given major creative control, Face/Off earned critical acclaim for its acting performances (especially Cage and Travolta), stylized action sequences, John Powell's musical score, emotional depth, originality, humor, direction and stunts. It is often cited to be Woo's best Hollywood film. A commercial success, the film grossed $245 million worldwide and serves as the 11th highest-grossing film of 1997. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger and Per Hallberg) at the 70th Academy Awards.



On September 9, 1990, FBI Special Agent Sean Archer survives an assassination attempt by freelance terrorist and homicidal sociopath Castor Troy, but the bullet penetrates Archer's chest and strikes his son Michael, killing the boy.

Six years later, Archer’s vendetta against Troy culminates in his team's ambush of Troy and his younger brother and accomplice, Pollux at the Los Angeles International Airport. Troy 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 an irreversible coma before Archer can learn more.

Archer affirms that the threat is real, but is unable to convince Pollux to reveal where the bomb is located. At the suggestion of his partner Tito Biondi and Special Ops specialist Dr. Hollis Miller, Archer secretly undergoes a highly experimental face transplant procedure by Dr. Malcolm Walsh to take on Troy's face, voice, and appearance. Archer is taken to the same high-security prison where Pollux is being held, and slowly convinces Pollux that he is Troy, gaining information on the bomb's location. Meanwhile, Troy incredibly awakens from his coma and discovers his face missing. He calls his gang, and they force Dr. Walsh to transplant Archer's face onto him.

Troy visits the prison and surprises Archer. He taunts his nemesis, telling him that he burned down Dr. Walsh's lab with Walsh, Biondi, and Miller inside to eliminate all the evidence of their transplant, and will take over Archer's life. He leaves Archer 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, Troy-as-Archer gains respect from Archer's fellow FBI colleagues. Troy becomes close to Archer's family, who Archer had neglected since he began seeking revenge against Troy, romancing his wife Eve and rescuing his daughter Jamie from an abusive boyfriend.

Archer escapes after staging a riot and retreats to Troy's headquarters. There, Archer meets Sasha, the sister of Troy's primary drug kingpin, and her son Adam, who reminds Archer of Michael. Archer discovers that Adam is Troy's son, who he once had planned to put in foster care. Troy learns of Archer'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 Troy's gang, including Pollux; Archer, Sasha, and Adam are able to escape. Archer's supervisor, Director Victor Lazarro blames Troy for the numerous slayings. Troy, furious over Pollux's death, kills Lazarro, and makes it look like a heart attack. Troy-as-Archer is promoted to acting director as plans are made for Lazarro's funeral.

Archer finds safety for Sasha and Adam and approaches Eve. He persuades her to take a sample of Troy's blood and his own to compare their blood types at the hospital where she works as a doctor to prove he is Archer. Convinced of her husband's identity, she tells him that Troy will be vulnerable at Lazarro's funeral. At the ceremony, Archer finds that Troy has anticipated his actions and takes Eve hostage. Sasha arrives, and a gunfight ensues; Sasha manages to save Eve after taking a bullet. Archer promises a dying Sasha to take care of Adam and raise him away from criminal life.

Troy flees the church with Archer pursuing him. After killing two more federal agents, Troy briefly takes Jamie hostage, but she escapes by stabbing him with a butterfly knife that Troy had given her for self-defense. A speedboat chase ensues in which Archer forces Troy to shore by collision, then bests Troy in a melee fight. Troy mutilates his own/Archer's face to taunt and distract him, but Archer instead gains the upper hand and impales Troy with a spear gun, killing him. Backup agents arrive and address Archer by name, having been convinced by Eve of Archer's true identity. After the face transplant surgery is undone, Archer returns home, adopting Adam into his family and keeping 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 with whom he had worked in Hard Target. During development Douglas and Harrison Ford were attached to star.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]


Box officeEdit

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.[2]

Home mediaEdit

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.[8] The new DVD is a 2-disc set including 7 deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and several featurettes.[9]

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.[10]


The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes records that 92% of 86 critical reviews were positive, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "John Travolta and Nicolas Cage play cat-and-mouse (and literally play each other) against a beautifully stylized backdrop of typically elegant, over-the-top John Woo violence."[11] On Metacritic, the film received a core of 82 out of 100 from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[12] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[13]

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."[14] 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."[15] 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."[16]

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."[17]

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger and Per Hallberg) at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to another Paramount film Titanic. Face/Off also won Saturn Awards for Best Director and Best Writing, and the MTV Movie Awards for Best Action Sequence (the speedboat chase) and Best On-Screen Duo for Travolta and Cage.[citation needed]

Face/Off is said to have inspired Infernal Affairs. However, Infernal Affairs director Andrew Lau wanted to have a more realistic situation; instead of a physical face change, Lau wanted to have the characters swap identities.[18] The concept of "bian lian" or "change face", a technique traditionally used in Chinese opera, may have been used here to depict the fluid and seamless morph of Chen and Lau's characters' identities between the "good" and "bad" sides. Infernal Affairs in turn has spawned several adaptations, notably The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.


Face/Off: Original Soundtrack
Film score by
ReleasedJuly 1, 1997
April 26, 2006
ProducerHans Zimmer[19]
John Powell chronology
Face/Off: Original Soundtrack
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [20]

The Face/Off soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on July 1, 1997, the week following the film's release.[21]

All music composed by John Powell, except as noted.

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 Greenaway7:27
7."Hans' Loft"John Powell, Gavin Greenaway3:34
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 (June 27, 1997). "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 November 6, 2010.
  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 Production Notes". Retroramble.
  6. ^ "Face/Off". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Perenson, Melissa J. (January 18, 2007). "New HD Disc Titles, New HD Disc Technology". PC World. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  9. ^ "Face/Off (US - DVD R1 | HD | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive". Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  10. ^ "Breaking: Paramount Unveils Blu-ray Launch Plans". High-Def Digest. April 29, 2008. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  11. ^ Face/Off at Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^ Face/Off at Metacritic
  13. ^ "CinemaScore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 27, 1997). "Face/Off (review)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  15. ^ Travers, Peter (February 9, 2001). "Face/Off (review)". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  16. ^ Corliss, Richard (June 30, 1997). "One Dumb Summer: Reviews". Time. Retrieved November 20, 2008.
  17. ^ Shulgasser, Barbara (June 27, 1997). "Trading Faces". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  18. ^ "无间道的幕后花絮". (in Chinese). Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  19. ^ "Face Off Original Soundtrack by John Powell". ARTISTdirect. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  20. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Review: Face/Off - John Powell". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  21. ^ "Face/Off Soundtrack CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved March 11, 2014.

External linksEdit