Broken Arrow (1996)


Broken Arrow is a well-paced, well-made, but dramatically vapid and ultimately forgettable Action film, one of a slew released during a 90’s boom for the genre. One of Director John Woos’ earliest Hollywood gigs, the film sure looks the part of an enjoyable action film, but unfortunately doesn’t play like one, high on clichés, plot holes and stupid dialogue, but low on logic, thrills or any real ‘killer moments’, it isn’t terrible…but doesn’t’ really justify its $150 Million gross.

The Plot is far-fetched even by the genre’s standards. Opening, rather randomly with the two leads brutally boxing with each other we learn they are the Pilot- Major Deakins (John Travolta) and Co Pilot-Captain Hale (Christian Slater) of a US Air force Bomber (evidently being heavily bruised has no effect on their ability to fly), assigned to fly a cargo of nuclear Warheads during an secret exercise over Utah, they seem, at first to be close comrades.

But soon the situation changes, Deakins reveals himself to be a traitorous nutjob, and steals the nukes. Crashing the plane (inadvertently letting Hale survive in the process), and meeting up with a group of  stock-character mercenaries, he sets about executing a tedious master plan involving (surprise surprise) a nuclear detonation and a large extortion of Government funds, it’s down to Hale to stop him. Helped by the conveniently present Park Ranger Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) Hale engages in a frantic race against time to stop him by any means necessary.

It’s a stupid plot, which lends itself all too often to stupid dialogue (endangered soil anyone?)- For every piece of snappy dialogue (unfortunately quite sparse in the film), there are several clichéd speeches, a half dozen cheesy one liners- ‘’If a thought went through his head it would be the quickest trip in North America’’ being an example, and some truly terrible attempts at humour (generally the film only provokes unintentional laughs). Character depth is largely absent, and logic takes an increasingly small part in proceedings, arguably it’s what you’d expect from the genre, but it’s still frustrating just how dopey this film often is. 

Chance acts of convenience and goofs are common in the film, there are numerous plot holes as well: Why does an long abandoned mine still has fully functioning electricity?, Why does a High Ranking officer go out alone to assist Hale?, and Why is Travolta such a bad shot for a Career Service Man?, these are only a few examples. Many of these ‘holes’ aren’t too massive, but all make it harder to accept the increasingly silly plot….and why oh why did they think The Utah Desert would make an exciting backdrop?.

All these things could perhaps have been forgiven if the film was actually fun, action movies are all about entertainment after all, but the script is often as tedious as it is predictable, making it a struggle to enjoy the film on a purely escapist level… although The film is not without its good points.

Admittedly the film is quite well structured, and despite its (many) other flaws is well paced throughout, with a clearly defined central plot and only a few characters to remember (although most of the supporting characters are rather bland), it may be a struggle to enjoy, but it’s not very hard to follow.

Arguably a good script isn’t necessary to make a good action film, whilst on some occasion this may be true, in this instance it doesn’t prove true; and it’s only the first in a long series of issues.

Such a hit and miss script inevitably lends itself to rather variable performances. Delroy Lindo and Bob Gunton give good (if predictable) performances in weighty supporting roles, although Frank Whaley quickly outstays his welcome as a plot point spouting Government official. Far more successful is the pairing of Hale and Mathis, both give enthusiastic performances (though Slater comes with his usual over the top mannerisms and seems a little young for the character) and have a clear chemistry, its largely possible to enjoy the film when there on the screen (not enough).

The worst performance, rather surprisingly is from Travolta, only a few short years after his dynamic turn in Pulp Fiction, he churns out a rather strange concoction as Major Deakins: over the top body language is balanced by rather wooden characterisation, Deakins quickly gets monotonous as a character and Travolta’s bland performance does the film no favour’s, a bad script becomes a terrible script when even the actors lack enthusiasm.

A group of assorted bit parters and extras fill out the scenery, many dying in amusingly over the top ways.

Whilst the script is generally turgid, and the performances very uneven, the film is well crafted visually, John Woo display’s an experienced technical eye, the film is well shot and convincingly edited throughout, although his penchant for dramatic zooms, tracking shots and extensive use of slow motion is definitely a required taste.

The various action sequences (including a car chase, train top fight and several shoot outs,) are well staged, utilising several locations, and putting impressive practical effects to good, if extensive use (although the sparsely used CGI appears quite dated), these alone will probably entertain fans of the genre- and are probably the film’s high point (even if none are definite ‘wow!’ moments), though for many other viewers, the messy script and patchy performances will make these scenes less enjoyable, in any case they lack the tension of their contempories, in other, better action films.

A functional, but very formulaic musical score is over used, making some very obvious, and very annoying appearances in the film, it ends up being a bad joke…judging by the rest of the film it’s in appropriate company. The protracted climatic fight results in an amusing demise for a central character, and leads to an irritatingly predictable resolution to the film.

In conclusion Broken Arrow is a largely mediocre action film, despite some impressive work behind the camera, and a few good performances, its flaws far outnumber its strengths, serious fans of the genre may well ignore these issues and appreciate it for what it is- a formulaic action film, but anyone else is likely to forget it in a hurry.

4/10 Paul Ashwell

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About paulashwellreviews

A Blog dedicated to Film, TV and Book reviews of all ages and genres
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