Throwback Thursday: Broken Arrow (1996)


As well as trying to see as many new releases in the cinema as I can (though sometimes life takes over), I’m constantly watching films aired on TV or on demand; with some older and some better than others. With this in mind, Throwback Thursday is the start of a new column where I take a look at some of the best and worst that have been released since the very beginning of film.

To kick things off, I’m looking at John Woo’s 1996 thriller, Broken Arrow. It may seem like a random choice but I absolutely loved this as a teenager, and seeing as it was recently on television, I thought now would be a good time to re-visit it for the first time in years.

It’s always a risk looking back at a film you have such fond memories of, and there’s been so many times where I’ve had to apologise to people for introducing them to films I used to think were great but in hindsight were complete garbage. So does Broken Arrow stand the test of time?

As far as I’m concerned, yes. It’s not perfect, and a lot of what I used to think was cool did make me cringe this time around (I really can’t remember there being so much diving in slow-motion), but there’s enough going on to still make it one of the more enjoyable thrillers of the 90’s.

For anybody who hasn’t watched one of its countless repeats on TV, the plot is fairly straight forward. Two military pilots are pitted against each other in the Utah desert when one of them tries to steal two nuclear warheads in an attempt to ransom America. A standard narrative that’s made more interesting by two people; John Woo and John Travolta.

Woo’s second film to be made in the US, he treats the story like a modern-day Western. From the shots of the sweeping Utah desert to a number of Mexican stand-off’s, his direction is one of the best things about the film. The action is perhaps a bit repetitive, and as mentioned before there is a lot of slow motion diving and rolling away from explosions, but there are still some set-pieces that stand the test of time (the mine sequence is stand out).

Then you have John Travolta playing the villain with much glee. Offered both the protagonist and antagonist roles, you can why he chose the latter, and he’s at his scenery-chewing best as the terrorist with a few screws loose. He’s played a number of baddies since, and I don’t think any are half as memorable as his character in this.

Christian Slater does admirably to hold his own as the leading man, but is overshadowed considerably by Travolta. That said, it’s their chemistry and the relationship between the two characters that still works really well for me.

Finally worth mentioning is the score from Hans Zimmer; considerably subtle compared to his most recent work, but still effective in increasing excitement and adding to the western feel with an electric guitar riff for Travolta’s villainous theme.

Far from a classic, Broken Arrow is worse than most but better than some. Since its release, Woo has stated that, as was the case with his previous feature (the Jean Claude Van Damne starring, Hard Boiled), the overall film suffered due to cuts from the studio and the rating boards. Perhaps somewhere there is a much better version out there, but otherwise I think this is a perfectly acceptable and silly action film perfect for a Saturday night.

Trivia Tidbit: Halle Berry revealed on Parkinson that she was turned down for the love interest role as she was told by producers that there were no black park rangers. I think she’s done okay for herself since though, so I’m sure she’s not kicking herself over it too much.

Next Week: A Knight’s Tale (2001)

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