Die Hard

Dir: John McTiernan, 1988


Launching its star, Bruce Willis, from television actor to A-list superstardom, Die Hard cemented Willis as a bona fide action star, on a par with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis), travels to Los Angeles spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children.

Meeting her at her office in the Nakatomi Plaza, McClane finds himself battling a group of German terrorists who have taken over the building, intent on robbing the place of its millions in bearer bonds.

Die Hard changed the action movie genre with its sense of realism and focus on thrills. Earlier films such as First Blood and Commando were over the top and filmed in a comic book style. McTiernan resists the temptation to turn McClane into a one man army and foregoes the usual tropes of an indestructible superhuman.

Hot off the show Moonlighting and Blake Edward’s rom-com Blind Date, Willis was an unlikely action star but proves the nay-sayers wrong. Smart-mouthed and cocksure of himself, Willis as McClane is a, rather, formidable, yet flawed, action hero. Vulnerable to the elements, McClane traverses the skyscraper barefoot, shredding the soles of his feet and succumbing to the pain. Rather than being made of steel, McClane is depicted as genuinely human, making the character more accessible allows us to identify with him.

The cast is phenomenal and it’s not only bearer bonds that lead baddie Alan Rickman is stealing. As Hans Gruber, Rickman steals every scene he’s in, acting dryly and understated. His German accent could do with a bit a bit of work, though.

At over two hours, McTiernan has plenty of time to stretch out the thrills and excitement but, also, has a tendency to drag at times. A bit of extra editing could have tightened the pace up a bit more.

But, Die Hard isn’t without its faults. There are several characters that don’t really add anything and pull the film down. Reginald VelJohnson, as Sgt.Al Powell, is McClane’s only real contact to the outside world. In terms of plot, Powell is highly important. However, the character is written bad. He’s just a run of the mill, desk sergeant who hasn’t fired his gun in years because of a tragic backstory. But, lo and behold, he suddenly finds the courage to pull the trigger, again. It’s a years old development that has been done a hundred times. FBI agents, Johnson and Johnson, have very little screen time and serve only to provide a cameo for Robert Davi.

The biggest character issue, though, is De’voreaux White as limo driver Argyle. As a chauffeur to McClane, his role exists, purely, to drive him to the plaza and sit in a car park, waiting for him. Argyle adds nothing, whatsoever, to the film and should have been written out. The same applies to the cocaine snorting, trying-to-get-his-end-away-with-McClane’s-wife-Holly, Ellis.

Nevermind, though, as Die Hard is still a brilliantly entertaining film, offering high octane thrills and excitement.

Annoyingly, my daughter (within minutes) gleefully picked the film apart and pointed out all the mistakes and inconsistencies. Despite the film being thirty years old and watched thousands of times, these little details have never been picked up on, and certainly not by me. Allow me to give you some examples:

When McClane first hears the gunshots in his wife’s office, why didn’t he take two seconds just to simply put his shoes on? Or, a big one, is when McClane is on the floor being refurbished, he tries to get the girl in the opposite building’s attention. She’s close enough for him to watch her naked and have a good gawp so why didn’t he just use the litres of paint that was laying around and write on the window? In fact, why didn’t he use all the sheets and paraphernalia and hang it out of the window?

Anyhow, plot holes aside, Die Hard is a winner and plays an important part of the action genre, being held on a pedestal for future films to look up to.

Highly recommended.


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