a critiQal film review Broken Arrow (1996)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Once close friends, Stealth bomber pilots Vic Deakins (Travolta) and Riley Hale (Slater) become engaged in an explosive battle against time, and each other. In the air and on the ground, in planes, on the tops of trains, and clinging to careening Humvees, theirs is a no-holds-barred race to recover a stolen nuclear weapon that threatens a major American city.

573 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 51s)
  • ...despite a misstep or two, Broken Arrow is definitely worth the ride.

Ever since I saw The Killer, I’ve been a huge fan of director John Woo. In later years, he continued to impress with films like Face/Off (1997) and another film I saw years ago, Broken Arrow.

While I had fun watching Broken Arrow over a decade ago, would I still enjoy this Woo-directed Slater vs. Travolta pic now, or would I have outgrown it? Thanks to NetFlix®, I got my chance to find out.

Christian Slater, who was a huge star in the 80’s, faded quite a bit as the 90’s turned into the new century. The reason why is slightly evident back in ’96, as his performance in Broken Arrow is not as involving as his 80’s roles, but still decent. It’s his re-teaming with his Pump Up the Volume (1990) co-star, Samantha Mathis, however, that brings out his better side in Broken Arrow. The two of them play well off each other, and while Mathis’ role of “distressed female” leaves a bit to be desired, the two of them together help make up for their characters’ shortcomings.

John Travolta, on the other hand, seems almost giddy to play the bad guy in Broken Arrow. While he occasionally strains himself a bit too hard to live up to his bad guy character, he also gets to toss out the memorable lines of the film – and does so with great relish and unconstrained glee. Despite his occasional missteps, he seems to be having a good time playing the villain, and it makes him come across as much more believable in the role.

The rest of the cast, including Delroy Lindo, Frank “weird eyes” Whaley and the uber-silent Howie Long, are pushed into the background as the battle rages between Travolta and Slater. The rest of the cast gets a bit of a short shrift, but they still manage to bring in some memorable moments, despite their much briefer time on screen.

As with any John Woo film, Broken Arrow has most of Woo’s signature stylings, especially the slow-motion sequences and the odd zooms throughout the film (ie, a handshake between Deakins and Hale is shot with a sudden zoom to them clasping hands). While the stylized action sequences Woo is known for aren’t quite up to his norm, he still doesn’t let the viewer forget their are a lot of bullets flying back and forth. Unlike action films like Commando (1985), Woo does a good job of keeping track of where his bullets fly – although not to the crazy degree seen in films like The Killer. Still, the actions scene pack quite a punch, and help make the film that much more enjoyable.

Oddly enough, the plot isn’t as put together as Woo’s previous efforts. While the basic gist is easy enough to grasp, the why is never really explained – in fact, the why is referenced to as being unimportant, in one sequence (Hale: “it doesn’t matter why you’re doing this!”). Maybe Woo was playing on the fact that too many action films never explain the why, spoofing big Hollywood while playing along with the same game. It’s an odd change for Woo, who usually seems to have every plot point nailed down.

With memorable one-liners, solid action sequences, and Woo’s stylized directing, Broken Arrow is able to overcome any flaws it may have and deliver a solid action-packed film that should get most anyone’s adrenaline pumping. Rent or buy this one today.

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