Friday 19 April 2024

Broken Arrow (1996)

When you think about watching Broken Arrow you might think about the fact that it isn’t the best film from anyone involved. It isn’t director John Woo’s best film. Both John Travolta and Christian Slater have starred in a number of better films. Even writer Graham Yost peaked a couple of years before this (having worked on the brilliant Speed). It’s a film destined to be overshadowed by so many others, and yet I tend to get the urge to revisit it every few years.

Travolta and Slater play Deakins and Hale, respectively. They are two pilots who find themselves battling against one another when one puts in motion a plan to steal some nuclear weapons. Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) is a young park ranger who finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous situation, and it isn’t long until we get slow-motion moments, two-handed gunplay, and inventive action sequences that showcase a fantastic variety of stuntwork and gags.

As much as I enjoy Hard Target, the first American feature from Woo, it feels very much like a Van Damme movie that John Woo directed. Which is what it is. Broken Arrow, however, feels like a John Woo movie that could have started anyone in the main roles, but benefits from both Travolta and Slater upping their game to work with such a great action director. I hope that clarifies why I have always enjoyed this film a bit more than the enjoyable Van Damme flick.

The script may not be the best work that Yost has ever done, but he puts all of the pieces in place and gives some great dialogue to the main characters (one line even famously leading to the name of the kingdom of the now-disgraced Harry Knowles, “Ain’t It Cool News”). What it lacks in smarts and plausibility, it more than makes up for in action movie witticisms and simple fun, which is an approach supported by Woo’s enjoyable direction.

Travolta steals a few scenes, but both he and Slater fit well in their roles, and both seem equally capable at doing whatever their characters are required to do. Mathis is weaker, but it’s hard to figure out whether that is down to her performance or the fact that her character feels like a last-minute addition to the whole thing. Thankfully, the supporting cast includes Bob Gunton, Frank Whaley, and the always brilliant and captivating Delroy Lindo, each one of these familiar faces getting at least one great little moment to remind you of why you enjoy them onscreen.

Well-paced, with a fantastic set-piece just over the halfway point that remains awesome and impressive nowadays, and with a third act that really pulls out all of the stops, this remains a top-tier action film. You can really sense Woo feeling gleeful as he plays around with this huge toy set. It is also worth mentioning the score by Hans Zimmer, featuring a guitar refrain performed by Duane Eddy, which is so good that it was re-used and recycled in a number of different works.

I love this film, ever since I first watched, and rewatched, the trailer while it played at a cinema too far away from me to access. Everyone involved may have done better work elsewhere, but they all work together brilliantly here to deliver something hugely entertaining and enjoyable.


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  1. I don't think I'd go quite that high but it is a good example of 90s action movie excess.