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Face/Off

Movie review by
Elliot Panek, Common Sense Media
Face/Off Movie Poster Image
'90s sci-fi crime thriller is extremely violent.
  • R
  • 1997
  • 138 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 8 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Might makes right. Killing for revenge is acceptable. Trust personality over appearance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 

Violence

Frequent, constant, unrelenting violence. Lead bad guy kills the lead good guy's son with a sniper rifle while they ride a merry-go-round. A woman is shot in the head and thrown off a moving plane. Fighting with guns, machine guns, assorted firearms -- lots of death, blood, explosions, fire. Characters tied up, covered in gasoline, burned alive. Death by falling. Sulfuric acid attack. Attempted date rape of teen girl by teen boy; the lead bad guy, while looking like the lead good guy, punches, kicks, and throws around the teen boy. 

Sex

Cartoon image of female nudity. Sexual innuendo from the bad guy. The lead bad guy's brother tells him how he had a "sex sandwich" with the wife of the man who attempted to kill him in a prison fight. Lead bad guy, while looking like the lead good guy, is shown leering at the scantily clad teen daughter of the lead good guy. 

Language

Frequent profanity. "F--k" used a lot. "S--t," "p---y," "damn," "goddamn," "ass," "jagoff." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. While looking like the good guy, the bad encourages his daughter to smoke cigarettes. Drug use -- the good guy, while looking like the bad guy, takes a drink spiked with drugs and starts to hallucinate and is shown having slower reaction times. 

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 1, 3, and 5 year old Written byrchris2000 April 9, 2008
Adult Written byRiddle_Me_This April 9, 2008

This is probably one of the best movies ever!

This IS the best action movie ever. (No Contest!) The Acting in this movie is so awesome, as well as the fight sequences, and the music. And since you get to se... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMeh. November 18, 2011
Kid, 11 years old March 22, 2016

Drug and sexual abuse

Lots of violence and sexual abuse, including many references to inappropriate topics. Lots of drugs.

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? 

Movie details

For kids who love action

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