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Face/Off is a 1997 film directed by John Woo, starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. The two both play an FBImarker agent and a terrorist, sworn enemies who assume the physical appearance of one another.

The film exemplifies 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 as a result. Eventually grossing $245 million worldwide, Face/Off was a financial success.

Plot

Public enemy number one and freelance terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) is being relentlessly pursued by FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta). Years earlier, Troy had attempted to kill Archer, who barely survived with a chest wound, but the bullet struck Archer's little son Michael who died of his injuries.

Troy is recorded in the FBI files to have a whole list of terrorism-related offences, including bombings and political assassinations. The FBI receives information that Castor's brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) has chartered a plane at a Los Angelesmarker airport, and Archer knows the Troy brothers well enough to guess that Pollux "doesn't fly without big brother!" Archer leads an FBI team in chasing the plane down a runway and is able to shoot out one of the engines. Unable to take off, Castor kills both the pilot and one of Archer's agents, then crashes the plane into a hangar. In the ensuing chaos, which leaves several FBI agents wounded or dead, Pollux is captured by the Feds and Castor is knocked into a coma after bragging to Archer about a biological bomb that will destroy Los Angeles.

Archer initially believes Castor was bluffing, but after the FBI finds schematics for the bomb on a disk recovered from Pollux's briefcase, Archer realizes that the threat is genuine. Although he learns the date of the bombing from several of Castor's henchmen, including Castor's bomb supplier Dietrich Hassler (Nick Cassavetes), Archer is unable to find any information about the location of the bomb itself. Knowing that the only way to obtain the location is from Castor's brother, Pollux, Archer's colleagues, Tito and Miller, present him with a top-secret mission and convince him to undergo a surgical procedure to temporarily graft Archer's face and pose as Castor in order to gain information about the bomb from Pollux. (Though the time-period is never specified in the film and largely implied to be the present, the technology shown here and later in the prison is partially anachronistic, contrasting with the technology used in the rest of the film.)

After the procedure, arrangements are made for Archer (as Castor) to be incarcerated with Pollux at the Erehwon Penitentiary (Erehwon being "nowhere" spelled backwards), where he convinces Pollux that he is Castor and learns the bomb's location. Meanwhile, Castor unexpectedly awakens from his coma (it is implied this is a result of shock from the trauma of the surgery) and, realizing what has happened, calls his men to kidnap Doctor Walsh (Colm Feore), the doctor who performed the surgery. He then forces Walsh to give him Archer's face.

Castor (as Archer) then visits Archer (as Castor) at Erehwon prison. Castor tells the shocked Archer about how he killed Walsh, Tito and Miller, how he destroyed all evidence of their face-swap, and his plan to abuse Archer's job and have sex with his wife. Castor has the FBI negotiate a deal with Pollux for his release in return for revealing the bomb's location (which is at the Los Angeles Convention Centermarker). Castor then proceeds to disarm the bomb and revels in praise from his colleagues and the media, having informed his brother that they are "going straight", meaning they will use Archer's identity and influence to their advantage and for their own purposes. Ironically, given Castor's gregarious, irreverent nature and off-beat sense of humor, he becomes more popular at work than the real Archer was — the impatient and bad tempered Archer having spoiled victory celebrations with reminders of the lives that they had cost.

After Castor's disarmament of the bomb, Archer escapes from Erehwon prison, which is revealed to be inside an offshore oil platform in the Pacific Oceanmarker, and swims to shore. Some time later, Archer visits Dietrich and successfully fools him and the rest of Castor's men into thinking that he is the real Castor Troy. Archer then asks Dietrich for help killing Castor (as Archer).

By this point, both men have begun to see firsthand how their hatred for one another affects each other's close ones. As Archer, Castor revels in the praises of his co-workers, is more tender and affectionate with wife Eve (Joan Allen) than Sean was, and even reaches out to Archer's teenage daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain): Castor smokes cigarettes openly with her, gives her a balisong for protection, and even violently assaults a boy (played by Danny Masterson) who tries to force himself on Jamie. He even feels compassion for Eve when they visit her son's grave on what should have been his birthday.

Meanwhile, Archer (forced to play along with the part of Troy) finds himself having to take drugs and impress the terrorists with his knowledge about Sean Archer which even Castor never knew. Also present is Sasha Hassler (Gina Gershon), Dietrich's sister and Castor's ex-girlfriend, and her son Adam. Archer is told that Adam is Troy's son (one thing on Troy that he appears to have been unaware of) and sees a lot of his late son Michael in Adam. Earlier, when he was himself, Archer interrogated Sasha and threatened to put her son into foster care. He now comes to realize that she is in fact a devoted mother and feels sorry for what he did. Later, when she offers to join him in his final battle with Troy (as Archer), Archer (as Troy) promises her "whatever happens, Sean Archer's off your back for good."

Pollux Troy is watching Dietrich's apartment and informs Castor of Archer's arrival. Castor sends an FBI team to kill Archer. There follows a brutal, lengthy gunfight, in which many FBI agents and terrorists are killed. Dietrich is killed by Castor as he tries to shield Sasha and Adam, who manage to evade capture. As he makes his own escape, Archer catches Pollux and drops him through the apartment skylight. Pollux falls to the ground and is killed outright. Castor is left distraught and almost suicidal over the death of his brother. When an FBI agent asks why he is shedding tears for the likes of Pollux Troy, Castor shoots him dead on the spot.

FBI Director Victor Lazarro (Harve Presnell) berates Castor (as Archer) for his unnecessary carnage with the terrorists and queries as to how he happens to suddenly know so much about their movements. Castor, still angry over the death of Pollux, confesses his true identity to Lazarro and kills him, blaming Lazarro's death on a heart attack. As a result, Castor becomes appointed as the new acting-FBI Director. Meanwhile, Archer returns to his suburban home and tries to explain the entire situation and convince his wife, Eve, that he is really Archer, but to no avail. After an analysis of Castor's blood type, Eve still does not believe, but after her husband tells her the story of how they had their first kiss, she eventually realizes the truth.

Sasha and Archer track Castor to Lazarro's funeral, where Castor is holding Archer's wife and daughter Jamie hostage. With Eve caught in the middle, cops and gangsters hold each other at gunpoint. A gunfight then ensues in which Sasha and all of Castor's minions are killed. Having taken a bullet to save Archer, Sasha begs him not to let Adam grow up to be a criminal.

Castor and Archer engage in both a gun battle and hand-to-hand fight, with Archer gaining the upper hand. Jamie finds a gun and shoots at Archer (as Castor), believing him to be the real Castor, and wounds him in the shoulder, allowing the real Castor to break free. Castor takes Jamie hostage but she gets him to let go by stabbing him in the leg — ironically a trick which he himself taught her earlier.

Castor manages to limp away killing two FBI agents and a motor boat operator before escapeing in a boat, pursued closely by Archer. After a lengthy chase both in which Castor destroys a police boat Archer and Castor's boats are also destroyed and are thrown ashore by an explosion resulting from their boats' collisions. The two engage in a final hand-to-hand confrontation which results in Archer eventually prevailing by killing Castor with a spear gun, (which leaves Castor in the same position as the statue shown earlier of Jesus on the cross) but not before Castor tries to destroy Archer's face (on himself) to prevent Archer from reclaiming it.

Archer's wife is able to explain the entire situation to the FBI and successfully convince them of Archer's true identity. Archer is then taken to the hospital and his face is restored, with the exception of his chest scar — which served as a reminder of the loss of his son — as he doesn't "need it anymore," due to Castor's death.

Archer then brings Adam Hassler, Castor Troy's son, into his family, in order to fulfill his promise to Sasha of not allowing Adam to grow up to be a criminal.

Cast



Production

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.

Originally the film was to be set in the far future and was to star Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in the lead roles. Another pairing that was considered was that of Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas. When the film was eventually made, Douglas was an executive producer. Werb and Colleary have cited White Heat (1949) and Seconds (1966) as influences on the plot.

John Woo was offered a chance to direct but 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 movie 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 and Adam and Archer's family.

The names Castor and Pollux come from a pair of brothers from Greek mythology which also features the city of Troymarker. The story itself, most notably the hatred between Archer and Troy, is very similar to that of Hector and Achilles, who fought against each other in the Trojan War. Castor and Pollux are also the brothers that make up the Gemini constellation. The Archer is also a constellation.

Pollux is held at Erehwon prison, a secret jail for top terrorists. The inmates do not even know which part of the country they are in. "Erehwon" is "nowhere" in reverse. The reversal is taken from the title of an allegorical novel by Samuel Butler.

The battle in the church, which includes doves flying around and religious artifacts being destroyed, is similar to the final confrontation in Woo's classic 1989 Hong Kong film The Killer.

Costing $80 million to make, Face/Off made heavy use of action set pieces including several violent shootouts and a boat chase. It was filmed in the Los Angeles area.

Release

Face/Off was released in North America on June 27, 1997 and earned $23 million on its opening weekend. 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.

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 Collectors Edition was released on DVD September 11 2007 and HD DVD 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 1 October 2007 by Buena Vista, and was released in the United States on 20 May 2008 by Paramount Pictures.

Reception

Garnering largely positive reviews and high box office earnings, the film was 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 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 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."

Some critics felt the film's violence was overkill, 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."

Face/Off holds a 93% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 54 positive reviews out of a total 56 and a score of 82 on Metacritic with 25 reviews counted. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Sound Editing at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to Titanic. Face/Off also won the 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.

The ride

Face/Off was a Vekoma inverted face-to-face boomerang roller coaster at Paramount's King's Islandmarker theme park in Cincinnati, Ohiomarker. The ride was notable in that every other row of seats was turned around so that riders faced each other, looking into the eyes of their fellow riders through the course of the attraction, literally facing off. After the sale of the Paramount Parks to theme park conglomerate Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., the Paramount movie names had to be removed due to licensing contracts, and the ride was renamed Invertigomarker.

Soundtrack

Tracklist

  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 (7:27)
  7. Hans' Loft (3:37)
  8. Ready For The Big Ride‚ Bubba (3:54)


Album credits

  • Orchestra Conducted By: Lucas Richman
  • Orchestrated By: Bruce Fowler, Steven Fowler, Walt Fowler, Yvonne S. Moriarty, Ladd McIntosh and Lucas Richman


Additional music

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



References

  1. Christopher Heard. Ten thousand bullets: the cinema of John Woo. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Publ, 2000. ISBN 158065021X
  2. Empire - Special Collectors' Edition - The Greatest Action Movies Ever (published in 2001)
  3. Face/Off (US - DVD R1 | HD | BD RA) in News > Releases at DVDActive
  4. Breaking: Paramount Unveils Blu-ray Launch Plans | High-Def Digest


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