Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Face/Off”

This week a look back at another film that Touchstone Pictures helped to produce that doesn’t have the official Disney label. Paramount Pictures may have their name on the blockbuster Face/Off, but Touchstone Pictures was a co producer on the John Travolta/Nicolas Cage action spectacle.

The Plot

Sean Archer is the best of the best at the FBI. His dogged pursuit of master criminal Castor Troy nearly kills him and takes the life of his young son. With vengeance on his mind, Archer apprehends Troy thinking that he died. The long nightmare for the Archer family is over.

Until Sean learns that Castor Troy didn’t die but is in a coma. With the threat of planned bombing by Troy that could kills thousands, Archer agrees to undergo an experimental surgery where he will have his face switched with Troy, so that Archer can gain important information from Pollux Troy, Castor’s brother, who is currently in prison.

All seems to be going well, until Castor Troy, shows up at the prison wearing Sean Archer’s face. Troy has now assumed Archer’s life, and no one knows except the real Sean Archer. Faced with no other solutions, the real Sean Archer must escape from prison, use Troy’s accomplices to his advantage, save his family, and try to regain his face and freedom.

The Good

John Woo knows how to make a great action film, and Face/Off is incredible. The story is fast past, with multiple explosions, and physicality that is rarely seen so consistently in the movies. Woo can ratchet up the tension of a fierce gun battle based on his filming style, and the frenetic energy that he is able to extract from his actors makes the movie unique amongst its contemporaries.

John Travolta and Nicolas Cage could not be better matched in their roles. Not only do they get to play the hero, but they get to be the villain while pretending to be each other. Cage is an excellent start as Castor Troy, but there is something wonderful about how Travolta reintroduces the audience to Castor wearing Sean Archer’s face. Travolta has a hint of manic glee that continues throughout the film while being the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The Bad and the Ugly

I genuinely dislike the scenes where Sean Archer swipes his hand down the face of his wife and daughter. Sure, it’s a sign of affection and love, but it was weird when I watched the movie in 1997 and continues to be off putting. Perhaps if it was only used once or twice it would be fine, but for my enjoyment it just seems strange.

Seeing John Travolta’s Castor Troy leering at his onscreen daughter played by Dominque Swain was within character for Castor Troy but could be cut out. It’s just creepy to watch.

If you can’t suspend your disbelief then you will want to avoid Face/Off. The action sequences push well beyond the boundaries of reality, and there is no way any of the characters would be able to walk away from the hard bought battles that they participate in.

Beyond the Film Facts

  • The movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing.
  • Nicolas Cage and John Travolta won the MTV Movie Award for Best Onscreen Duo in 1998.
  • Cage and Travolta reportedly spent time together prior to filming to learn how to play each other.
  • During the gun battle at Castor Troy’s safe house, the scene where Adam is listening to ‘Over the Rainbow’ was financed by John Woo. Paramount refused to pay for the scene as it was not part of the screenplay and an addition by Woo. After the film was released and was a success, the studio apparently paid back Woo.
  • The rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ is performed by Olivia Newton-John.
  • Many of the big action sequences were planned to be filmed using green screens but ended up being filmed with practical effects.
  • Though the concept of face transplants was a futuristic notion upon release of the film in 1997, the first real face transplant took place in 2012.
  • John Travolta reportedly nailed the emotional scenes in one take.
  • Michael Douglas is an executive producer on the film.
  • Face/Off was released weeks after Nicolas Cage’s other action packed prison drama Con Air. (Face/Off is by far the superior film)
  • This was the second film that Travolta collaborated with John Woo. The first was Broken Arrow.
  • Nicolas Cage would also reteam with Woo for Windtalkers.
  • This was Dominque Swain’s film debut. She would go on to star in Adrian Lyne’s Lolita remake in 1998.
  • Nicolas Cage initially turned down the role of Castor Troy because he didn’t want to play the villain. He changed his mind when he learned that he would be the hero for most of the film.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were originally in contention for the Archer and Troy roles. When John Woo came on to direct this idea was cast aside.
  • Paramount recently announced a sequel was in the works with the hope of getting Travolta and Cage to star.
  • While the movie was released domestically by Paramount Pictures, Touchstone Pictures released the movie internationally in multiple markets.

The Streamy Award

{Watch on your phone (1) Watch on a tablet (2) Perfect travel entertainment (3) Best at home with the biggest screen (4)}

Face/Off is excellent. Few films capture the explosive action of the late 1990’s like this film. Not only is the story compelling, but the lead actors are at the top of their game. You want to root for Sean Archer, but it’s so hard not to cheer on John Travolta when he has assumed the role of Castor Troy, wearing Archer’s face.

Travolta looks so happy and gleeful in the destruction that he brings to the screen. Is it over the top? You bet it is, but that’s what makes this film endure, and so enjoyable.

Face/Off gets a Level 4 Streamy Award. Watch this film on the biggest screen possible and turn the sound up. You will not be disappointed.

Cast and Crew

  • John Travolta as Sean Archer
  • Nicolas Cage as Castor Troy
  • Joan Allen as Eve Archer
  • Alessandra Nivola as Pollux Troy
  • Gina Gershon as Sasha Hassler
  • Dominique Swain as Jamie Archer

Directed by John Woo

Produced by Paramount Pictures / Permut Presentations / Touchstone Pictures

Release Date: June 27, 1997

Budget: $80 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $112,276,146

Worldwide Total: $245,676,146

Coming Soon

Next week a revisit of the Bette Midler and James Caan’s war drama, For The Boys.