It is considered Woo's most successful American film, both critically and commercially. The film exemplifies gun fu and heroic bloodshed action sequences, and has Travolta and Cage each playing two personalities. It was the first Hollywood film on which Woo was given complete creative control and was acclaimed by both audiences and critics as a result. Eventually grossing $245 million worldwide, the film was a financial success.
Archer initially believes Castor was bluffing, but after the FBI finds schematics for the bomb on a disk recovered from Pollux's briefcase, Archer realizes that the threat is genuine. Although he learns the date of the bombing from several of Castor's henchmen, including Dietrich Hassler (Nick Cassavetes), Archer is unable to find any information about the location of the bomb. Knowing that the only way to obtain the location is from Castor's brother, Pollux, Archer's colleagues, Tito and Miller, convince him to undergo a surgical procedure to switch faces with Castor's comatose body, as they know he would only discuss the bomb with his brother.
After the procedure, arrangements are made for Archer (as Castor) to be incarcerated with Pollux at Erehwon prison(Erehwon being nowhere spelled in reverse), where he successfully learns the bomb's location. Castor unexpectedly awakens from his coma (it is implied this is a result of shock from the trauma of the surgery) and, realising what has happened, has Dr. Walsh (Colm Feore), the doctor responsible for the surgery, kidnapped by Castor's minions and perform the surgery on him, then manages to steal Archer's face in process.
Castor then burns down the Walsh Institute, including Walsh, Tito (Robert Wisdom) and Miller (CCH Pounder) to eliminate all evidence of the identity-swap. Castor (as Archer) then visits Archer (as Castor) in prison to deliver the news to Archer (as Castor) and taunts Archer (as Castor) about his plan to abuse Archer's job and make love to his wife. Castor (as Archer) has the FBI negotiate a deal with Pollux for his release in return for revealing the bomb's location. Castor(as Archer) then proceeds to disarm the bomb and revels in praise from his colleagues and the media, informing his brother that they are "going straight", meaning they will use Archer's identity and influence to their advantage and for their own purposes. Ironically, due to Castor's gregarious, irreverent nature and off-beat sense of humor, he becomes more popular at work than the real Archer was.
After Castor's disarmament of the bomb, Archer (as Castor) escapes from Erehwon prison, which is revealed to be inside an offshore oil platform, and swims to shore. Some time later, Archer (as Castor) visits Dietrich and successfully fools him and the rest of Castor's men into thinking that he is the real Castor Troy. Archer (as Castor) then asks Dietrich for help killing Castor (as Archer). Also present is Sasha Hassler (Gina Gershon), Dietrich's sister and Castor's ex-girlfriend, and her son Adam, of whom Castor is the father. Archer sees a lot of his own son in Adam.
Pollux Troy is watching Dietrich's apartment and informs Castor (as Archer) of Archer's arrival. Castor (as Archer) sends an FBI team to kill Archer (as Castor). Following a brutal, lengthy gunfight, in which many FBI agents are killed, Dietrich is killed by Castor (as Archer) for talking about the bomb to Archer (as Castor) and Archer (as Castor) manages to kill Pollux by kicking him through the apartment skylight. Archer (as Castor) escapes, and Sasha gets away separately with Adam. The carnage leaves Castor (as Archer) distraught and almost suicidal over the death of Pollux. Castor (as Archer) then becomes more determined than ever to avenge Pollux's death.
FBI Director Victor Lazarro (Harve Presnell) berates Castor (as Archer) for his unnecessary carnage with the terrorists and becomes suspicious that Castor (as Archer) may be in league with the terrorists. Castor (as Archer), still angry over the death of Pollux, confesses his true identity to Lazarro and kills him, blaming Lazarro's death on a heart attack. As a result, Castor (as Archer) becomes appointed as the new acting-FBI Director. Meanwhile, Archer (as Castor) returns to his suburban home and tries to explain the entire situation and convince his wife, Eve, that he is really Archer, but to no avail. After an analysis of Castor's DNA, Eve still does not believe, but after Archer told her the story of how they had their first kiss, she eventually realizes the truth.
Sasha and Archer (as Castor) track Castor (as Archer) to Lazarro's funeral, where Castor (as Archer) is holding Archer's wife (Joan Allen) and daughter Jamie (Dominique Swain) hostage. Upon meeting each other face-to-face once again, Castor (as Archer) admits to Archer (as Castor) that he had no intention of killing Archer's son, Michael, as he only wanted to killed Archer (as Castor). The ensuing standoff following the funeral leads to a gunfight in which Sasha and all of Castor's minions are killed. Having taken a bullet to save Archer (as Castor), Sasha begs him not to let Adam grow up a criminal, before she dies. Castor and Archer engage in both a gunfight and hand-to-hand fight, with Archer gaining the upper hand. Jamie finds a gun and shoots at Archer, believing him to be Castor, and wounds him in the shoulder, allowing Castor to break free. Castor takes Jamie hostage but she gets him to let go by stabbing him in the leg — ironically a trick which he himself taught her earlier.
Castor manages to escape in a boat, pursued by Archer. After a lengthy chase both Archer and Castor's boats are destroyed and they are thrown ashore by an explosion. The two engage in a final confrontation and Archer (as Castor) eventually prevails by killing Castor (as Archer) with a spear gun, (which leaves Castor in the same position as the statue shown earlier of Jesus on the cross) but not before Castor tries to destroy Archer's face (on himself) to prevent Archer reclaiming it. Archer's wife is able to explain the entire situation to the FBI and successfully convince them of Archer's true identity and the face swap is reversed, with the exception of his scar (Archer was wounded in the incident where his son was killed), as he doesn't "need it anymore". The film ends with Archer(with his face restored) adopting Adam Troy, Castor Troy's son, into his family, fulfilling Sasha's request of not letting Adam grow up to be a criminal.
John Woo was offered a chance to direct but declined unless the studio agreed to give him more creative control than he had received on his previous American films. Travolta had previously starred in Woo's Broken Arrow (Cage was later to star in another Woo film Windtalkers). Woo set the movie in the present so he could focus on the psychological elements of the story, such as the effect that the feud between the two men has on Archer's family.
Costing $80 million to make, Face/Off made heavy use of action set pieces including several violent shootouts and a boat chase. It was filmed in the Los Angeles area. In line with Woo's style from his earlier films, many action scenes were filmed in slow motion.
The names Castor and Pollux come from a pair of brothers from Greek mythology which also features the city of Troy. The story itself, most notably the hatred between Archer and Troy, is very similar to that of Hector and Achilles, who fought against each other in the Trojan War.
Pollux is held at Erehwon prison, a secret jail for top terrorists. The inmates do not even know which part of the country they are in. "Erehwon" is "nowhere" in reverse.The reversal is taken from the title of an allegorical novel by Samuel Butler.
The battle in the church, which includes doves flying around and religious artifacts being destroyed, is similar to the final confrontation in Woo's classic film The Killer. Doves are a symbol of peace.
The Region 1 DVD of Face/Off was one of the first films to be released on the format on October 7, 1998. A 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition was released on DVD September 11th 2007 and HD DVD October 30th 2007 in the United States. The new DVD is a 2-disc set including 7 deleted scenes, an alternate ending and several featurettes.
Some critics felt the film's violence was overkill, and that the action sequences dragged out too long. Barbara Shulgasser of the San Francisco Examiner called the movie "idiotic" and argued that "a good director would choose the best of the six ways and put it in his movie. Woo puts all six in. If you keep your eyes closed during a Woo movie and open them every six minutes, you'll see everything you need to know to have a perfectly lovely evening at the cinema.
Face/Off holds a 93% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 52 positive reviews out of a total 56 and a score of 82 on Metacritic with 25 reviews counted. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Sound Editing at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to Titanic. Face/Off also won the Saturn Awards for Best Directing and Writing, and the MTV Movie Awards for Best Action Scene (the speedboat chase) and Best Duo for Travolta and Cage.
FACE/OFF was a Vekoma inverted face-to-face boomerang roller coaster at Paramount's King's Island theme park in Cincinnati, Ohio. After the sale of the Paramount Parks to theme park conglomerate Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., the Paramount movie names had to be removed, and the ride was renamed Invertigo.