A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Face/Off is a 1997 movie in which an FBI agent and his arch-nemesis, a psychotic terrorist, switch faces. This movie is incredibly violent, even by action movie standards. A little boy is killed by a sniper rifle while riding on a merry-go-round with his father. Characters are shot in the head and killed, and shot and killed during extended battles between the FBI and the terrorist and his henchmen. A wide array of firearms is used. A stabbing is graphically shown. Characters burn to death, tied up and covered in gasoline. A teen girl is shown trying to fend off a date rape while in a car. There's frequent profanity, including regular use of "f--k." Some sexual content: While appearing like the FBI agent, the terrorist is shown ogling the scantily clad teen daughter of the agent. We also see a '90s-style computer graphic of a topless woman, accompanied by sexual moaning. There's some sexual innuendo, and reference to a "sex sandwich." Cigarette smoking is seen, including in a scene where the teen daughter of the FBI agent is encouraged to smoke by the terrorist while he's disguised as the agent.
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What's the story?
Government agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has been chasing terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) ever since Castor murdered his 5-year-old son. After he catches Castor, Sean learns that in order to infiltrate terrorist ranks and acquire information about a plot to blow up Los Angeles, he must impersonate Castor. In the not-to-distant future, surgeons are able to perform seamless face transplants. To make the impersonation as convincing as possible, Sean has Castor's face grafted on to his head. Castor unexpectedly awakes from his post-surgical slumber and demands to be outfitted with Archer's face, thereby acquiring the sterling reputation that he needs to move his evil plot forward. When all evidence of the transplant procedure is destroyed, Archer must convince his family and his co-workers that he's not the depraved terrorist he appears to be, all while trying to maintain his wits and foil Castor's plans.
Is it any good?
Face/Off is a uniquely awkward blend of sensationally violent action, hokey attempts at symbolism and drama, and dark humor. The film alternates so rapidly between earnest attempts to elicit emotion and crazed over-the-top acting and dialogue that it's impossible to know whether one should laugh at how contrived this film is or accept it as an action extravaganza aware of its own absurdity.
This ambiguity is less the fault of the actors (Travolta and Cage do a fine job of playing with the audience's expectations of their characters) than it is of action director John Woo. Subtlety isn't Woo's forte. His obsessive use of slow motion and clumsy, blatant symbolism turn what could have been an intriguing inquiry into identity into a ham-handed attempt at profundity and poignancy. His fetishistic treatment of gunfights that are expertly choreographed and highly stylized makes for the more spectacular and enjoyable moments of the movie. Still, the movie is not recommended for anyone under 17.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in action movies. Is all the violence necessary or is it gratuitous?
If this movie was remade today, how would it be different?
While this movie is from the '90s, do movies like these -- movies in which violence is entertainment, characters kill with no remorse, and extended battles with multiple firearms and casualties are frequent -- bear any of the blame for the gun violence that has ravaged so many communities in America, especially in the last two decades? Or are violent movies like these simply escapist entertainment?
- In theaters: June 27, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: October 6, 1998
- Cast: Joan Allen, John Travolta, Nicolas Cage
- Director: John Woo
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of strong violence, and for strong language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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