A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film contains plenty of graphic action violence, usually in the form on bloody, on-screen shootings. The deaths are quick, so there's not much suffering. The body count is not as high as some other action blockbusters (such as The Terminator), but is fairly constant throughout the duration of the picture. There is also lots of strong language.
What's the story?
Government agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has been chasing terrorist Castor Troy (Nicholas 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 is 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 is not 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 how and why we treat people differently when their physical appearance is dramatically altered. Why are some of the violent scenes funny and others very serious? When and why is it appropriate to laugh at some "over the top" violence? Why are so many films by Hong Kong directors, such as John Woo, as violent?
For kids who love action
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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.