At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Broken Arrow “96”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley, Bob Gunton, Howie Long, Jack Thompson, Kurtwood Smith, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Daniel von Bargen/ Runtime: 108 minutes

Four years before he decided to engage in cruise control and helm Mission: Impossible 2, we got to witness in the long-gone year of 1996, an action filmmaking genius by the name of John Woo take his sophomore spin around the American movie merry-go-round with a movie known as Broken Arrow. A film that, in addition to being an entertaining enough little entry in the action/thriller genre that has John Travolta and Christian Slater squaring off in the main roles and which also took it upon itself to answer the question, albeit with a few entertaining yet highly implausible action moments attached, of what might occur if a pilot in the Air Force went bad and attempt to make some money from stealing a nuclear warhead that he was flying in a top-secret aircraft. Indeed known just as much for his flamboyant style as well as the fact that he most assuredly knows his way in the Action genre, Woo manages to insert into this film quite a bit of his signature style that enables the movie to feel both bigger and grander than it really is….even if this movie doesn’t really turn out to be anything more than a quality-grade if not slightly run-of-the-mill film in the Action genre. Nevertheless, and in that way that Woo is all too great at pulling off the feat of making something normal actually phenomenal to a degree….indeed it is this gift that has enabled Broken Arrow over 2+ decades after its initial release in theaters to be a genuine guilty pleasure kind of film that is both easily rewatchable and just as much fun with the end result being a truly enjoyable albeit not exactly a classic addition to the Action genre.

The plot is as follows: Broken Arrow tells the story of 2 men by the names of Captain Riley Hale and Major Vic Deakins. In addition to being the best of friends, the 2 are also highly-skilled pilots in the U.S. Air Force and who have been assigned by their commanding officer with flying a B-3 Stealth Bomber, equipped with a pair of nuclear warheads, into the sky around the American West particularly the Utah-Colorado area as part of a military exercise designed to see just what limitations the aircraft has to say nothing of any possible enemy’s ability to track the plane while it is both in stealth and carrying the potentially lethal payload that it is. Yet what is supposed to be just a routine assignment soon takes a hard left turn for the worst when, whilst airborne, Deakins attempts to wrestle control of the craft away from Hale, a struggle that ends with Deakins ejecting Hale through the cockpit and shortly after ejecting the nukes into the desert of Utah where a team put together by Deakins as well as their civilian financier named Pritchett await their arrival so they can all attempt to strong arm the government into buying them back at a hefty price otherwise they’ll detonate them on U.S. soil. Unfortunately for Deakins, Hale has not only managed to survive his 007-style ejection from the aircraft, but soon proves himself quite the thorn in his side as he begins the process of throwing a wrench into Deakins’ plan at seemingly every single opportunity, and pretty soon this duo are engaged in a deadly face off in the desert with no less than the lives of thousands of civilians at stake. Thus with the reluctant aid of a slightly quirky yet resourceful park ranger by the name of Terry, Hale must work fast and effectively in order to conquer both Deakins’ strategic genius as well as his heavily-armed goons that are determined at any cost to make Hale’s desperate and urgent fight against them and their schemes that much more difficult if not downright impossible…..

Now despite the fact that Broken Arrow is yet another movie that has zero to offer other than what is shown on the surface level that does not mean in the slightest that this is not worth watching. That is because even though the movie is built on the foundation of an intriguing yet also relatively simplistic idea and then set up with quite a few bullets, bombs, glares, and slow-mo, Woo nevertheless manages to keep the movie credible within the world of the Action genre by providing audiences with exactly what they want from a film of this ilk by ratcheting up the action and violence and decreasing 98% of everything else in the name of keeping an audience entertained and on the edge of their seat. Indeed movies like Broken Arrow may not strive to be bottom-of-the-barrel material, but rarely are they straight up masterpieces either. Thankfully this one has John Woo at the helm who is a true genius when it comes to making action art movies. Indeed Broken Arrow may not be in the same league as when Woo worked alongside Chow Yun-Fat in such films as Hard Boiled or The Killer, but it still nevertheless makes for a quite entertaining film that also functions, for American audiences, as a brilliant gateway to Woo’s style due to being straightforward and having a scale that is not as imposing as his foreign films or as it was when he made Face/Off. Make no mistake, the majority of Woo’s trademark skills from a visual perspective as well as his for slick action sequences are here and ready to play, but they’re here more in moderation than they usually are in some of his “bigger” films that he has made.

Now in the middle of all the bullets being fired, the bombs going off, as well as Woo’s trademark slow-mo, close-up action beats is a cast that in all honesty actually seems to be relishing the straight-up action the movie is delivering to audiences. As such every single cast member manages to provide their roles with a delightful over-the-top style that inserts into the film a much-needed sense of fun and manages to lessen the potent impact of having to sit through close to a couple of hours of non-stop violence and action beats. Indeed from a structure perspective, the dynamic between Deakins and Hale is nicely created and constructed in relatively short form. Indeed their boxing sparring session that functions as the opening of the film also does a wonderful job of setting up who both of these characters are from an emotional, psychological, and physical perspective respectively with relative speed and effectiveness. Indeed even though it also does telegraph way too far in advance just how this movie will conclude, I say that because honestly only the viewer who is watching this film for the very first time might be even remotely surprised at how the narrative manages to come full-circle in the way that it does, it should be noted that it does manage to accomplish being an intro sequence fairly well while also opening the film with a terrific hard-hitting sequence. Now it should be noted that, for a popcorn action film made with the degree of style and skill that this one was, that Slater and Travolta both manage to do pretty good work in their roles as Hale and Deakins respectively. Indeed as Deakins, Travolta manages to deliver a particularly fun yet wicked performance that presents this character as a cool as ice and quite in-control psycho who wants all eyes on him and will, violently if necessary, deny any idea to the contrary that he is not in control. On the other side of the coin, we get Christian Slater providing a typically good effort by blending both a touch of wry humor and his competent talent as an actor. Indeed Slater may never been seen as one of his generation’s best performers, but again he does manage to show in this film that, in the right material, he is as dependable a performer as any and guaranteed to bring a jolt of energy to any role he is given. The rest of the cast including Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley, Bob Gunton, and Kurtwood Smith all also do wonderful work as well in their respective roles no matter how much or how little screen time they are given. Finally it should also be noted that Broken Arrow is also an iconic film in one other acting aspect. That would be the fact that this is the first, and tragically only, major role in a film in the action genre for former NFL player, and current NFL commentator Howie Long as Deakins’ main henchman. Indeed it is sad that this man didn’t have the acting career that other former players like Terry Crews and Terry Bradshaw have had because he honestly is not that bad in this. Yes his character is one-dimensional all the way, but Long infuses it with appropriate amounts of both muscle and energy that it fits in perfectly with the rest of the film.

All in all for those who are interested I think it is definitely safe to say that Broken Arrow not only makes for a good intro for those wanting to explore more in-depth the filmography of John Woo, but more significantly, has managed to hold up remarkably well after 20+ years as a dependable action film that honestly never ceases to be an entertaining sit thus making for a terrific “anytime” kind of film. A movie that is categorized as such because, when made right, manages to get you in a good mood and also placates your desire to get both your adrenaline system going and give your speakers a phenomenal workout in the process. Indeed filled to the brim with enough bullets and bombs to say nothing of its lean, mean A-Z style narrative with nothing extra added on, I think it is safe to say that fans of the genre can relax in the knowledge that this film delivers the goods. Yet when taking into account that the film also possess a few pretty good performances as well to go alongside its terrific gonzo, balls-to-the-wall action-style, it really doesn’t surprise me to see this film be regarded by movie lovers as a consistently reliably entertaining popcorn action movie from the 90’s. On a scale of 1-5 I give Broken Arrow “96” a solid 3 out of 5.