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.

The first Hollywood film in which Woo was given major creative control, Face/Off earned positive 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 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/accomplice Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) at 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 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 (Robert Wisdom) and Special Ops specialist Dr. Hollis Miller (C. C. H. Pounder), Archer secretly undergoes a highly experimental face transplant procedure by Dr. Malcolm Walsh (Colm Feore) 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 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 gets close to Archer's family, who Archer had neglected since he began seeking revenge against Troy, romancing his wife Eve (Joan Allen) and rescuing his daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain) from an abusive boyfriend.

Archer escapes after staging a riot and retreats to Troy's headquarters. There, Archer meets Sasha (Gina Gershon), the sister of Troy's primary drug kingpin, and her son Adam, who reminds Archer of Michael. Archer learns 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 (Harve Presnell) 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. Before she dies, Archer promises to take care of Adam for her and not allow him to grow up in a life of crime.

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 wherein Archer forces Troy to shore by collision, then bests Troy in a melee fight. Troy mutilates his/Archer's face to taunt him, but Archer shoots Troy with a spear gun, presumably 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. For the Archer character, Woo considered casting either Michael Douglas or Jean-Claude Van Damme with whom he had worked 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.

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. 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. 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.


The film-critics aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes records that 92% of 85 critical reviews were positive, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website's critical 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". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.

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 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." 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."

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 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 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.


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 - George Frideric Handel
  • Pamina's Aria "Ach, ich fühl's" from "Die Zauberflöte" - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • "Prelude in D-flat, Op. 28, No. 15" ("Raindrop") - Frédéric Chopin
  • "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" - James Brown
  • "Over the Rainbow" (Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg) - Olivia Newton-John
  • "Christiansands" - Tricky
  • "Don't Lose Your Head" - INXS
  • "Miserere mei, Deus (VV.1-4 & 17-20)" - Gregorio Allegri

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