REVIEW: Broken Arrow (1996) - ManlyMovie

REVIEW: Broken Arrow (1996)


When I look back to the blockbusters of yesteryear, I sit back and wonder to myself “what the hell happened, Hollywood?” The recent influx of CGI-laden superhero fantasy adventures does not bother me as much as I expected. No, what bothers me is that Hollywood is shoehorning these films towards the mass media and stupidly kicking big-budgeted R-rated action fare to the curb. These films co-existed mutually in the past, with superhero fare properly aimed at teens, and R-rated action fare properly touted for the grown-ups, featured at the same time in multiplexes. Diversity in genres, so to speak.
Thankfully, I have my trusty Blu-Ray collection to sit through to avoid the current theatrical glut. John Woo’s Broken Arrow is one such movie that has enjoyed proper blockbuster business some 20 years ago. His second American feature film, following 1993’s ultra-violent Hard Target, is a stripped-down Thunderball that’s set in the Utah desert. A U.S. Air Force pilot goes rogue and steals two nuclear warheads, holding the government hostage. His young and cocky hotshot co-pilot sets out to stop him. Instead of the usual glitz and glamour that comes with such territory, Graham Yost’s (Speed) script hits the ground running and ditches the drama that drags most action films down, opting to urgently hurtle from one explosive action sequence after another with the momentum of a ping-pong ball in mid-air.

Compared to earlier John Woo fare, it is arguably his second-weakest film in between A Better Tomorrow up to this point (Once a Thief was as frothy as a horrendous Wong Jing outing despite the R-rating), but in the words of villain Vic Deakins (John Travolta), “I say goddamn, what a rush!” Woo uses his big budget to very good use here, never short-changing his audience despite 20th Century Fox somewhat restricting his creative freedom to deliver explosive high-octane action as early Michael Bay would, save for some trademark John Woo stylistics and the wildly over-the-top villains. But Woo will improve upon his Hollywood craft only a year later, with help from master troll Nicolas Cage, but that is for another review…


Technical-wise, this film looks and sounds great. There’s a lot of dynamic sound design at work here that adds to the total adrenaline rush already set by the outstanding, beautifully vivid (but never over-saturated) and panoramically-lensed practical effects, stunts & explosions. The editing is crisp and generous, allowing the audience to savour each action sequence like a big, fat, juicy steak. Put all of these together and you got yourself near-perfect Hollywood action filmmaking.


While the film delivers on its action promises, the script is where it falters a bit. I know it’s pointless to fault an American John Woo movie for its script flaws, but in this case, this one was surprisingly hollow in the character department. You don’t really feel for the stakes involved and the characters’ plights, even as stuff is going down hard around them. The lead actors do their darndest to color the script full of life, and they have to be commended. Christian Slater as the hero Riley Hale is a little bit bland but more than rises to the occasion with some death-defying heroics – he looked like he performed a majority of the dangerous stunts himself, so major props to him. The villain as portrayed by master troll Travolta is the charismatic one – confident, slimy, hilarious and wicked cool without ever losing control of his persona. Probably one of the most underrated villains of Hollywood circa 1990s – one that even detonates a nuke to see his word through! And his exit in the film is, quite simply, one of the manliest ways to go out I’ve ever seen on film.


It’s an action movie that’s not too short, not too long, and very brisk to watch. It’s another great beer-and-steak film that is a must-own on Blu-Ray for every action/John Woo/John Travolta/Christian Slater fan. Ain’t it cool?

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  1. jim

    September 28, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    For me none of John Woo’s US pictures can compare to his best HK work: The Killer …. and Johnnie To is better.

    • Biggus

      September 28, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      Umm.. Hard-Boiled?

      • Biggus

        September 28, 2016 at 7:47 pm

        I mean that’s gotta be up there with the killer as Woo’s best

        • jim

          September 28, 2016 at 9:01 pm

          Fair point is I prefer the earlier HK movies in general…Same with Ringo Lam…Never really warmed to Tsui Hark.

          • Jacob Phillips

            October 1, 2016 at 1:28 pm

            As a kid I never cared much for John Woo’s american outings either, it’s a long time since I’ve seen them though and I guess they stand up reasonably well against crap like Fast and Furious etc. Did you ever see Chow Yun Fat in Bullet Proof Monk? It was fucking tragic.

          • jim

            October 1, 2016 at 3:07 pm

            They didn’t know what to do with him…but I’d say some of that must be Chow Yung Fat’s fault too…It’s a long time since he made a good movie in ChinaHKUSanywhere… but he’ll always be The Killer to me… HK cinema really had a buzz about it in the late eighties and early nineties…Today I’d say Johnnie To is the last man standing there…Now South Korea is where the action is..

          • AlTeo

            October 2, 2016 at 3:38 pm

            Woo himself had a bad end with Hollywood with Paycheck starring Ben Affleck… Generic Hollywood fare and far from Woo’s best even by American standards… And an insult to Philip K. Dick’s story when compared to the original Total Recall, Blade Runner etc

  2. Barney Ross

    September 28, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Awesome movie, Hard Target and Face off are better but his HK movies are better, Hard Boiled is his best one, then The Killer, A Better tomorrow 2…..

    • Andymovieman

      September 28, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      I agree with you on all those films. I hated Windtalkers especially since both nicolas cage and Christian slater die and those two guys went up against Travolta in both those movies from John woo. But I liked how Travolta worked with woo twice on this film and face/off a year after. If you ask me which is better, I’d say both broken arrow and face/off.

  3. Andymovieman

    September 28, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Yes it is cool. I love that and face/off that Travolta also did with john woo a year after from Paramount. Hans zimmer did the best score of the film and I have the soundtrack for it along with the soundtrack from backdraft and rain man which he also composed. Travolta did a great job as the bad guy in this and in face/off the year after and honestly they are a lot better than taking of Pelham 123. I mean it was good to see the late great tony Scott direct, and Denzel and John Travolta go head to head but there was no hand to hand combat with each other unlike in broken arrow and face/off. Harry greg son williams composed but I would’ve loved if hans zimmer returned to work with Tony Scott again. And also I would’ve loved to see the subway train go off the rails like in speed.

  4. Andymovieman

    September 28, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Howie long in this looked like he’d be great for duke nukem or even cable in deadpool 2. You know who else I think can do cable? John Travolta and Nicolas Cage.

  5. Mucho Macho

    September 28, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    John Woo offered John Travolta the opportunity to choose what role he wanted to play and I’m glad he chose the bad guy because he made the movie even better, he elevated the movie to another level.
    Travolta was fucking great in this movie.

    • Mainline DnB

      September 28, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      ……When he crushes the windpipe of his employer simply because he was rambling on too much, and then when he desperately gasps for air, Travolta tells him to “Hush!”. Awesome.

      • Mucho Macho

        September 28, 2016 at 9:33 pm

        Hahahaha. True story a buddy of mine & I have been saying that to each other for years cause of this movie. Great scene.
        Btw..I think we oughta use it more around here as well

      • Andymovieman

        September 28, 2016 at 10:30 pm

        I love that scene! Greatest freaking scene with Travolta!

    • Andymovieman

      September 28, 2016 at 10:31 pm

      Travolta did the best bad guy roles in this and Face/off which he also played the hero as well and villain vice versa.

      • Mucho Macho

        September 28, 2016 at 11:01 pm

        Face/Off is a classic.
        I also gotta say I liked his character in Swordfish

  6. Mucho Macho

    September 28, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    I have shared those exact same thoughts on this site many times before regarding the state of action movies today how these movies have just become almost non-existent or very rare.
    In 1995 for example you had “Batman Forever” & “Die Hard with a Vengeance” released weeks apart. 2 action movies, yet very different.
    Hollywood has forgotten the meaning of the word genre.

  7. Mucho Macho

    September 28, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Not only do I love the movie but I love the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.
    I still think I have the CD somewhere. Great score by the great Zimmer.

  8. Mucho Macho

    September 28, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    After the 90s Hollywood started going to shit

    • AlTeo

      September 29, 2016 at 1:09 am

      I’d go further and say after 9/11 they started becoming crap. All heroes, be it human or super, started having emo-guilt and self reflection from then on out, and R-rated bloody violence started to decrease as PG-13 fantasy/superhero stuff reigned, because as I’ve heard “the public got numbed to real-life violence”

      • Mucho Macho

        September 29, 2016 at 1:33 am

        Originally in the States after that happened they was actually a Pro American movement and the celebrities didn’t dare to speak out loud about anti-American rhetoric . I remember Owen Wilson talking about Behind Enemy Lines that was released a couple of months after 9/11 & all the press was about grateful the nation all was about the military.

        You gotta remember now, in life is all Cyclical. People retire, move on, get older , new generations take over.
        Around the early to mid section of the first decade of the 21st Century that’s when you really started to notice the change. How 1 sided it all became. By 2004-05 it just started to become the norm. TV became completely populated with cheap stupid reality shows & movies & media just became full blown lefty propaganda.

        Now I’m not sayin you didnt see that before, I am just saying that’s when it seemed to become a complete and utter one-sided propaganda machine. If you look at “The Passion of the Christ” that’s around the same time the movie was made and released & it was like the lefty, socialist PC pussy Patrol had taken over and they were attacking everyone that dared to even be a Centrist. You have to be PC & to the left.

        In the States a lot anti-American propaganda in the media is led by the Jewish community which should be even more pro-war since we’re fighting the enemies of Israel .
        but I guess being grateful is not a trait everyone possesses

        • Jeff

          September 29, 2016 at 1:53 pm

          Excellent insight, young man.

        • jim

          September 29, 2016 at 11:51 pm

          This is why Trump is important..If he did nothing else he has violated a few PC taboos and forced everyone to confront problems which the Clintonistas want to pretend don’t even exist…or perhaps Clintonistas are so out of touch they might even be sincere when they say these issues aren’t important. Maybe they believe their own bullshit…No matter…Trump has already been of service to his country just by talking about these things….Even if he loses I think he has really started something which is bigger than he is..It might just be the beginning of the end of PC…Once we start talking honestly about our problems the solutions become clearer.

          • Mucho Macho

            September 30, 2016 at 12:59 am

            Those undecided voters I have to be free thinkers in order to vote for Trump cuz everything you read and every article you open or click on or every new show you watch, it’s Clinton bias.
            _* Hillary Clinton fail at Benghazi, Hillary Clinton lied to the victim’s parents then said the victim parents were lying. She also lied to the public about it.
            – Hillary Clinton in her youth got fired from a profession for being unethical not a Bip from the Press
            – Hillary Clinton committed treason. the FBI concluded that she put natural security at risk using a private server. she lied about it to the FBI to Congress and the American public. While investigated she ordered 30,000 emails deleted to hide the evidence of her wrongdoing.
            If she would have come clean there would have been no need for an investigation which millions of dollars of taxpayers money which was spend on the investigation.
            – Clinton as a young lawyer freed a child rapist. This feminist icon freed a man who raped a 12 year old girl.. but hey girl power!
            when asked about it by a reporter she just left laughed.
            – Her campaign has taken money from the declared or recognized enemies of the United States ..and if she’s such a liberal, these countries murder men when proven to be a homosexual.. but again the Hollywood Elite fill with gays say nothing.
            .. go figure that one out
            – why is Clinton ,a feminist icon ,married to a man just out of a business arrangement if a woman need no help from a man to move up the ladder of success. How many real feminist will put up with a husband that repeatedly publicly embarrasses her for cheating?
            But again..nothing from Femi-nazis

            but I’m afraid my friend she will win because all we have done is talk about how tired of politicians we are and here comes this guy who doesn’t behave like one and the majority of people are now running for the door because it scares them. God forbid we don’t have a phony lawyer in office. So what if he’s an asshole ..what-you-see-is-what-you-get .
            At least you know where he stands. Hillary Clinton is that devilish Sneaky Snake whom we all have to vote for now because she has a vagina and it’s time for pussy to sit in the oval office.Well at least according to the liberal media.
            & you know what’s next ..
            The next big push will be for a homo in the White House.
            President Tranny leading the world.
            get ready for Dick missiles up the ass

      • jim

        September 29, 2016 at 6:47 pm

        I didn’t know there was a new Ringo Lam movie on the way… ..Nice to see him working regularly again even though I wasn’t crazy about Wild City…Why did he vanish for ten years?

        • AlTeo

          September 30, 2016 at 11:32 am

          Oh nice, had no idea this was on the pipeline. A new entry in his “…On Fire” series, may prove to be more entertaining than Wild City, which I thought wasn’t too shabby though compared to some HK movies last year

  9. ColonelBobi

    September 29, 2016 at 9:59 am

    It was a decent movie made much better by Travolta’s awesome villainous turn. My only gripe was that he somehow got taken down by a wet behind the ears Slater. That wasn’t believable to me. Nor was the female park ranger somehow overpowering and killing supposedly badass mercs.
    But ‘hush’ and ‘I said goddamn what a rush’ have been quoted many times with friends over the years. great lines.

  10. Just Some Polack

    September 30, 2016 at 11:40 am

    I should like this movie, but I can’t. How is that possible, you might ask, with all these action sequences, cool slow-mo, explosions and Travolta chewing the shit out of scenery? Well, the problem is that am supposed to root for Slater. And he’s such a shit actor, that I just can’t. It’s not like I expect Pacino’s level of acting, but Slater didn’t even seem to look interested in what’s going on. All the movie he just sleepwalked through with the same dull, concrete face. And don’t even start on the myth, that “acting didn’t matter anyway in terms of action movies”, because a lot of action stars from our Golden Days has better acting chops, than so called “critics” are ready to admit (especially Stallone).

  11. The Night Rider

    September 30, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Man, it’s beena long time since I’ve seen this. I need to check it out again, Slater was kinda cool too back in the day.