John Travolta and Christian Slater challenge each other with fluff and muscular politeness in Broken Arrowthe XXL steamer by John Woo.
To ignite the powder, John Woo is never asked. A true living god in the eyes of action-loving moviegoers (whom we gladly join), he played his best cards at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s when he chained the memorable The Killer, A ball in the head and Foolproof, with his favorite actors of the moment, Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung. There, everyone is calmed down, starting with Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and the young Quentin Tarantino, who see him as a master in the field.
Feeling the eyes of Hollywood all turned on him, the Hong Kong director emigrated to the United States in 1992. After directing Jean-Claude Vandamme in Manhunt“The Mozart of Chaos” (as he was baptized by the BBC) ventures into the arid deserts of the American West for the needs of Broken Arrow. Written by Graham Yost, screenwriter of Speedthe project got carried away when John Travolta and Christian Slater agreed to play the two main roles and increased the budget to 50 million dollars, the biggest won by Woo at this stage of his career.
Rated “R” (not recommended for minors 17 and under unaccompanied by an adult) by the MPAA, the American censorship committee, the film nevertheless remained an obvious commercial success on its release, accumulating 150 million dollars in worldwide box office receipts. And if he was first sold, rightly, as a pure Hollywood actioner, Broken Arrow isn’t it above all a crazy western dynamited by Woo?
“Go ahead, smoke or I’ll smoke you!”
Faithful to his operatic conception of violence, the filmmaker opens his film with boxing training that looks like a ballet. While Major Deakins (John Travolta) sends Captain Hale (Christian Slater) into the ropes, the camera doubles their pas de deux by describing large circular movements around them. Everything is already in germ in this introductory sequence, the two fighters, pilots of the US Air Force, being destined to attract and repel each other simultaneously. And things aren’t going to get any better between them as the major goes over to the enemy a few minutes later, stealing two nuclear warheads from under the captain’s nose during a top-secret air mission.
From there, Woo doesn’t decelerate one iota, parachuting Deakins and Hale into the middle of the desert after their plane crashes. The duel then begins, with on one side the outlaw and renegade and on the other, the imitation-marshal guarantor of justice. Two archetypal figures of the western that the film boosts with pure adrenaline, the hero and the bad guy are characterized less by their psychology, reduced to a trickle (and after all, we’re not complaining about it), than by through their perpetual movement. And once again, their inaugural confrontation in the ring immediately confirmed their extreme liveliness.
Never rob your date to impress her, it always has a bad effect
Of course, the director has no equal in iconizing his characters in overstylized gunfights, where each slow motion suspends the ricochet of bullets on the asphalt, but also the gliding flights and the penetrating gazes of the two opponents. It might be hilarious, and there’s a super-powered geezer out there somewhere, but Woo’s expert eye instantly restores the image of beast-and-nasty action B-movie action. In a way, it would be tempting to compare Broken Arrow to Dead or alive by Sam Raimi, the two films relating to the western, it is all the more true for the second, and rushing in the stretchers with an ultra-playful second degree.