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Face/Off is the second American Heroic Bloodshed film by Hong Kong director John Woo, starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage playing an FBI agent and terrorist, as arch enemies fighting it out to see who can use the most guns at the same time. Oh, and then they switch places to save LA.
Sean Archer, an FBI agent, pursues his Arch Enemy, terrorist Castor Troy. Archer wants revenge on Castor Troy because the terrorist killed his son with a bullet meant for him. Archer succeeds in capturing Troy, but learns that before Castor went into a coma, he had placed a bomb somewhere in Los Angeles.
In order to get close to the bomb and save the city, Archer is forced to surgically transplant his face with Castor's. Unfortunately, Castor wakes up from his coma and takes Archer's face for himself, and begins inserting himself into Archer's life and family. Said family including wife Dr. Eve Archer (Joan Allen) and daughter Jamie Archer (Dominique Swain).
Although the film is a straight-up action flick with all the requisite high-speed chases, hidden bombs and hostage situations, it's also very much tongue-in-cheek.
- Actor Allusion — Nick Cage and his beige Volvos.
- The Alcatraz — A secret prison ("Erewhon" i.e, "Nowhere") , where the prisoners are forced to wear magnetic boots to get locked into place.
- The prison and its name play into the film's only major The Reveal: as Sean Archer (played by Cage) is escaping the prison, he opens a door to walk outside to what he believes is a roof, only to find that it's a helicopter platform, and what lies down is not land, as Archer hopes, but sea. The prison really is "nowhere," it's on what used to be an oil rig.
- Arch Enemy — Castor to Archer.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking — Castor Troy's box of goodies, two gold plated handguns, gold money clip with a wad of cash, numerous joints, bag of blue pills, prescription pills, and a box of chiclets.
- A-Team Firing — Every. Single. Character.
- Attempted Rape — Castor (as Archer) roughs up Archer's daughter's boyfriend when he tries to do this to her after parking his car in front of Archer's house.
- Ax Crazy — Troy acts like this basically the whole movie. His brother is definitely insane as well, but much calmer.
- Bed Trick — Castor-As-Archer with the real Archer's wife.
- Black Best Friend — Tito to Archer.
- Bloodstained-Glass Windows — You just knew that Woo would fit a church shootout into this movie somewhere.
- Bluff the Impostor — Happens to both.
- Bottomless Magazines
- Averted in some cases as both Caster and Archer are seen frequently reloading during shoot outs and at one point they both rely on knowing how many bullets the other has in their magazine, this possibly being a shout out to another famous cop action flick.
- Chekhov's Knife — Castor as Archer gives Archer's daughter a Butterfly Knife and shows her how to stab someone with it. Later when Castor takes the daughter hostage, she takes out the knife he gave her and stabs him the way he taught her!
- Cool Guns — Castor Troy's pair of custom gold titanium nitride plated Springfield Armory M1911-A1 pistols.
- Date Rape Averted
- Dead Little Brother: Michael.
- Dirty Cop — Castor when he's impersonating Archer.
- Driven to Suicide — Castor, after his brother, Pollux, got killed by Archer.
- Disturbed Doves — It wouldn't be a John Woo film otherwise.
- Dueling Stars Movie
- Even Evil Has Standards — Even for an indiscriminately murderous villain, Castor does have a semblance of honor: He beats up Jamie's boyfriend for trying to rape her, and teaches her to defend herself against future potential rapists with a butterfly knife. He genuinely loves his eccentric idiot-savant brother, and refused to kill him after Pollux betrayed their location by personally buying their plane ticket, as most terrorists would have. Most notably, he showed genuine horror at accidentally murdering Archer's son rather than Archer as intended, and could barely contain his remorse before the weeping mother when forced to visit the boy's grave as Archer.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: It's a John Woo film, what do you expect? If a boat crashed and DIDN'T turn into a ball of flames you'd be asking for your money back.
- Evil Is Petty: At the end of the final battle, Castor realizes he's screwed, since Archer has him pinned to a wall with a speargun aimed at his bolt. He musters just enough strength to grab the bolt and tries to mutilate Archer's stolen face with a piece of shrapnel in one last act of hateful petty spite.
- Evil Tastes Good: Troy (especially as Cage) often looks like he's having an orgasm while doing bad things.
- Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Sasha's dying words.
- Faux Affably Evil: Castor Troy.
- Freaky Friday — The main setup for the plot in question, except faces and voices are swapped, not the minds.
- Genre Savvy: When Castor/Archer is told that Castor Troy was killed attempting escape from prison, he demands to see the body. Uopn being informed that no body was found, Castor/Archer immediately knows his enemy is not dead and is coming for him.
- Good Is Boring: "Ahhh, yes. The eternal battle between good and evil, saint and sinners... but you're still not having any FUN!"
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Castor curses like a sailor but oddly doesn't like when other people curse at him.
- Groin Attack — Castor!Archer gives a couple in the prison scene before escaping.
- At the end, Archer (as Troy) has pinned Troy against a wall, and tries to fire a speargun into his gut. Troy catches the bolt and starts taunting Archer, who just snaps and cuts him off with a knee to the groin, causing Troy to lose his grip on the bolt and get impaled.
- Which combines with a glorious Shut UP, Hannibal when, after Archer knees Troy, he screams "DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!" as the harpoon runs him through.
- Castor gives one to Jamie's scummy boyfriend while beating the crap out of him.
- Gun Fu — This is a John Woo film, after all.
- Guns Akimbo — See above.
- Harpoon Gun
- Heel Face Turn — Sasha
- Heroic Bloodshed — The best-known and most-quoted example of this trope in western cinema.
- Heroic BSOD: Archer (as Troy) combines this with a monumental Oh Crap when Troy (as Archer) shows up at the prison, revealing that he's woken up out of his coma, stolen Archer's face and identity, killed the surgeon who did it and then torched all the evidence of the switch.
- Hey, It's That Guy!:
- Margaret Cho plays an FBI Agent.
- Tom Jane as Burke Hicks
- Hyde as Jamie's boyfriend.
- Two cast members of The Wire. Frank Sobotka is Dubov, and Bunny Colvin is Tito.
- Det. Wymns is another of Archer's partners.
- Pamela Landy as Dr. Eve Archer.
- Max Bemis of Say Anything appears briefly as a choir boy... he looks about eight though, so it's hard to catch.
- The fact that they had access to this technology makes a lot more sense when you realize the doctor behind the procedure was the woman in charge of Cadmus.
- High Concept — The FBI's Top Agent, played by John Travolta, and America's Most Dangerous Terrorist, played by Nicolas Cage, have to impersonate each other while desperately racing to try and cause/prevent acts of terrorism, each being hounded within an inch of their lives by their own allies along the way.
- Hoist by His Own Petard — Castor's knife technique is used on him by Archer's daughter.
- Husky Russkie: Dubov.
- Hypocritical Humor: "You watch Your fuckin' mouth".
- Large Ham — Cage and Travolta spend the movie trying to top each other. Both succeed.
- It has to be said... the quality of Cage as Troy trumps the quantity of Travolta as Troy. YMMV, both actors play good guys more often than not. This was Travolta's second major film as a villain (the first being the less successful Broken Arrow), and it's clear Travolta loves being a bad guy.
- Leitmotif — Sean's whole family has one.
- Intoxication Ensues: Sean's not used to these drugs...
Troy!Sean: I want to take his face...off!
- Mexican Standoff — A very masterful one of these goes down in the church near the end of the movie. It ends in a Blast Out.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits — The source of Dubov's anger at Troy. Later inverted when Archer as Troy recruits Dubov to help him escape by telling him he didn't actually do it.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted with face replacements. Even though the doctor who originally performed the procedure is dead, the FBI has some of their best doctors flown in to reverse it on Archer.
- Oh Crap:
- Right when Cage as Archer comes face-to-face with Travolta as Troy for the first time, since Archer believed Troy would be a long-term coma after the face transplant operation.
- The look on Castor and Archer's faces when they simultaneously realize the boat they are fighting on is about to violently crash.
- Papa Wolf: Archer, even to the child of his nemesis. Whom he adopts later.
- And Castor, also to the child of his nemesis.
- Pet the Dog — Castor Troy gets a genuinely poignant and humane moment when his brother Pollux dies.
- Also seen when Castor stops Jamie from being raped by her boyfriend in the drive of Archer's house. He may be "helping" by giving a teenage girl a knife without any formal training and committing GBH but it's still pretty heartwarming saying that it's coming from the notably insane Castor .
- Punny Name — In Greek mythology, Castor and Pollux were twin brothers of Helen of Troy.
- Sanity Slippage — Archer-as-Castor has a lot of it that he struggles with while wearing his enemy's face. Castor-as-Archer, not so much, as he's already pretty Ax Crazy.
- Shoot the Dog — Castor killing Dietrich for telling the police about the bomb.
- Signature Style — It's a John Woo movie. The question is not "Will the lead actors fire Guns Akimbo while flying through the air?" but "When will the lead actors fire Guns Akimbo while flying through the air?"
- Something Only They Would Say — Castor!Archer has failed in all prior attempts to convince his wife that he really is Archer. Until he reminisces over their first date, at which point she knows it's really him because that's a story they share.
- Soundtrack Dissonance — "Somewhere over the Rainbow" plays over a gunfight. Bonus points: It's the version sung by Olivia Newton-John, who starred opposite Travolta once upon a time.
- Corresponds with Diegetic Switch, as the song is playing over Troy's son's headphones while he's being carried to safety during a gunfight. An interesting example, actually, as the movie intends the sound to be heard from the boy's point of view, with the music playing much louder than the muffled shouts and gunshots.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The boat chase at the end. The rule of thumb here is: If it's in the frame, it will blow up during the next 15 seconds.
- Tear Off Your Face: The hero and the villain, for contrived reasons, end up surgically switching faces (and taking each other's places). At one point prior to the villain's surgery, he is shown walking around without a face (just barely; it's limited to a couple of seconds of his face reflected in someone's sunglasses).
- Title Drop: "Face off" is uttered several times in the movie.
- Tragic Villain: Dubov
- We Will Not Use Stage Make-Up in the Future — The transplant procedure.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: Mythological names. Mirrors. Faces. Hmm...
- As a by-product of the mythological symbolism, we have possible astrological symbolism, what with Sagittarius (the Archer) facing off against its opposite sign, Gemini (Castor & Pollux--the twins).
- With This Ring: Troy!Sean taunts Castor!Archer with his own wedding ring. Castor!Archer takes it badly since it's proof that Castor killed his best friend Tito whom he gave the ring for safekeeping.
Castor as Archer: See anything ya LIKE?!
- At the end, Castor!Archer takes his ring back from Troy!Sean's dead body.
- Worthy Opponent: Castor seems to have some weird level of respect for Sean.