AKA: Operation Broken Arrow
20th Century-Fox, 1996, 108 min.
Director: John Woo
Stars: John Travolta ("Vic Deakins"), Christian Slater ("Riley Hale"), Samantha Mathis ("Terry Carmichael")
Producers: Terence Chang, Bill Badalato and Mark Gordon
Writer: Graham Yost
Cinematographer: Peter Levy
Editors: Joe Hutshing, Steve Mirkovich and John Wright
Available on video (widescreen or pan-and-scan) from Fox
Available on DVD from Fox - a review can be found by clicking here
Clip #1 ("I say goddamn, what a rush!")
Clip #2 ("Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.")
Clip #3 ("Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?")
Major Vic Deakins seems to be a perfect soldier. He's good-looking, charming and always gets the job done. However, after being passed on for promotions one too many times, he decides to steal two nuclear warheads by creating the appearance of a "broken arrow" -- a lost warhead. Ditching the warheads in midair and leaving his co-pilot and rival Riley Hale for dead, Deakins demands millions of dollars from the US government for the return of the warheads. However, Hale is determined to stop him, and with the aid of park ranger Terry Carmichael, he turns the tables on Deakins and sets the stage for a final confrontation aboard a speeding train.
Broken Arrow was John Woo's second US film, and it's far better than Hard Target, mostly because of John Travolta's great performance as Deakins (and some great one-liners throughout the film from screenwriter Graham Yost). It's definetly not as good as most of his Hong Kong work, though -- the numerous editing errors (probably the result of having three editors -- see below) get annoying and the flatness and repitition of the desert landscape gets boring (I usually associate Woo's work with vibrant colors, and the monotone look of the desert takes away somewhat from the action). Speaking of action, there's some good stuff in Broken Arrow, particularly a shoot-out in an abandoned mine, though it isn't up to the level of something like The Killer (you're not going to see dozens of guys getting snuffed in this one). Overall, though, Broken Arrow is a good action movie that marks a major step forward in John Woo's US career.
- Broken Arrow cost $54 million to make. It premiered at the top spot at the US box office and stayed there for two weeks before being "dethroned" by Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx. Eventually, Broken Arrow made twice as much money as Woo's previous film, Hard Target, taking in over $70 million at the box office.
- John Travolta (who met Woo through their mutual friend Quentin Tarantino) was given the choice between Hale and Deakins... he chose the villain Deakins because he hadn't played a "bad guy" for some time. Travolta originally said Broken Arrow would be his first and last action film, but after working with John Woo, he agreed to do 1997's Face/Off.
- John Woo originally wanted Hale to die at the end, but the studio nixed the idea because of Christian Slater's popularity with teenaged girls.
- The actual military term for a lost nuke is "empty quiver."
- There are numerous continuity errors in the film. Supposedly, the film was running over budget, so Woo couldn't go back and reshoot any footage (also, the film was edited by three people, each of whom had his own ideas about what footage should be used).
- Broken Arrow doesn't feature much of Woo's trademark slow-motion because the studio wanted the film to look similar to Speed.
- Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis also appeared together in the teen cult classic Pump Up the Volume.
- Woo found the filming of Broken Arrow a trying process. In the book City on Fire, he says: "[Like Hard Target,] Broken Arrow was also an unpleasant experience. The studio executive tried to block any changes to the script, some of the people we had to work with were not good, and the line producer would control and change things behind my back. Luckily, the chairman of Fox let me make some of the final decisions. But all the game playing really comes out in the final product: the style is incomplete."
- From an interview on the now-defunct happening.com: "Hard Target was my first movie in Hollywood and I never knew there were so many problems to making films in Hollywood. A lot of things were so frustrating. Like the politics, the games, the meetings, and everything. It was quite an experience. After Hard Target, I stopped making movies for almost two years, and tried to find the right material, tried to find something really close to my style. But it was hard. Even though there are a lot of great writers in Hollywood and lot of writers who wanted to work with me, it was still hard to find the right thing that could fit with my style. All my Hong Kong films, I wrote all the scripts, you know. I took a lesson from Hard Target, and so when it came to Broken Arrow I didn't want to let it happen again. So that's why in Broken Arrow, I adopted a Hitchcock thriller style. I got the inspiration from Hitchcock's North By Northwest. I tried to make this movie all in one tone and keep the excitement from the beginning till the end. I tried to make everything even, especially the action. I still kept a little of my style while keeping the excitement of the action. And the violence, you feel the violence, but it's not exaggerated. And there's charming characters, there's charm and humor, and it seemed to end just right."
- The period between Hard Target and Broken Arrow was tough for Woo. Producer Terence Chang says "After Hard Target, [producers] Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert offered John a project called Shadow War at Universal. Then Fox offered John Tears of the Sun. For this one year and eight months when we were working on these two aborted projects, I did not get paid one cent. John had some development money, but he was in debt. Things began to pick up after the success of Broken Arrow. Despite the mediocre script, [Hard Target] is probably the best picture Van Damme has been in. Although it made money for Universal, [executive] Tom Pollack allegedly said John did not know how to make an American film. Broken Arrow is the perfect film to prove Pollack wrong, a straightforward action film with tons of special effects. All doubts in the industry whether John could handle American actors was instantly gone." [quote from City on Fire]
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