Face/Off (1997) – John Woo


Hong Kong action meets big budget Hollywood in this entry on the 101 Action Movies list as John Woo fills the screens with stand-offs, explosions, and his signature balletic gunplay.

John Travolta and Nicolas Cage play interchangeable roles as FBI agent Sean Archer and terrorist Castor Troy.

Travolta as Archer is desperate, and obsessed with running down Cage’s Troy after in a botched attempt to kill Archer, his son Mikey was killed instead. He’s shut out his wife Eve (Joan Allen) and daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain) in his all-consuming passion.

Finally he gets a chance to capture Troy in an explosive shoot out involving a plane, a helicopter and a jet engine. We learn though that Troy and his brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) have planted a bomb loaded with a biological agent somewhere in Los Angeles.

With Pollux unwilling to talk, and Castor in a coma, Hollis Miller (Cch Pounder) comes to him with an unnerving but possible answer. Under the hands of Dr. Malcolm Walsh (Colm Feore), Archer will go under an extreme surgery, as he has his face removed, and has it replaced, literally with Troy’s. A device to alter his voice, hair plugs, and minor surgery and Archer becomes Castor, and is promptly dropped into prison to chat with Pollux to find out the location of the bomb. (Watch for a barely recognizable Thomas Jane!)

Face Off

While in prison, Troy wakes from his coma, and discovering his situation forces Walsh to give him Archer’s appearance, and takes over his life, sleeping with Eve, influencing Jamie, and releasing Pollux, after a visit to Archer as Troy in prison.

Archer has to escape from prison and stop Troy, and save his family, and hopefully get his own face back.

Yes, the idea is a little extreme, but it allows both actors to play both sides of the law, and if one thinks about it, as apparently Archer as Troy does, it can push one to the psychological edge.

Filled with Woo’s signature style gun battles, doves, and people diving with two handguns firing, it never loses its emotional touchstones, Archer still mourning the loss of his own son, worries over Troy’s lover Sasha’s (Gina Gershon) son, and in a fantastic sequence while a gun battle rages around him, puts headphones on the young child to muffle out the sounds. While Olivia Newton-John croons out Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the suite is ripped apart by gunfire with this small child wandering through it…


The ending ventures into The Killer territory with a shoot out starting in a church, spilling out onto the grounds, and then a huge boat chase towards a literally explosive climax.

I’ve always liked how Woo is able to balance his action with a healthy dose of emotions, and this one does that very well, as Archer as Troy tries to survive in Castor’s world while wearing the face of the man who ruined his life, knowing Troy is out there with his wife, and his job…

This one is good fun, and while not my favourite Woo film, it’s up there.

How about you?


One Comment Add yours

  1. smellycat says:

    Love this movie ! 🙂

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