In this non-stop action classic which ushered in a new genre of action-thrillers, Bruce Willis stars as New York City cop John McClane, Off-duty, and visiting his wife in L.A., McClane find himself back in the line of fire when a group of terrorists seize an office building, trapping him, his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and dozens of party-goers insider. As hostages are rounded up, McClane slips away and, armed with only a service revolver, launches his own one-man war.
Die Hard 8.25
eyelights: Bruce Willis. Alan Rickman. its incredible supporting cast. its gritty action.
eyesores: its unrealistic überhuman hero.
“If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s!”
It’s Christmas Eve, and John McClane has come to Los Angeles to rekindle with his spouse, Holly. As he’s waiting for her to finish toasting her staff at the office Christmas party, criminals take the group hostage, intent on breaking into the corporation’s safe. John barely escapes and must now find a way to defeat this well-trained and organized crew.
Merry Christmas, John.
‘Die Hard’ changed the rules of the game. A solid hit when it came out in 1988, garnering 83 million dollars in North America, it was the standard by which all action pictures were measured for years afterwards. I still remember how producers of the James Bond series worried how their franchise could survive in a post-John McClane cinematic landscape.
For years, action movies revolved around fantasy characters who were larger than life, sometimes to the point of being cartoons: they were indestructible, infallible, unstoppable machines of death and destruction. And then came along a hero who was just some guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, trapped with no way out.
He simply had to find a way to survive.
And while the picture does test the limits of credulity many times over, it still manages to make its protagonist relatable by virtue of the fact that he’s shown getting pulled in against his will, groaning, straining and struggling to make it through each death-defying act. John McClane sweats and bleeds through his torment – he’s a man pushed to his limits.
Of course, he doesn’t lose his wits one bit, coming up with new ways to distract and outdo his opponents, whether it’s pulling the fire alarm, smashing a window to alert a patrol car or simply pecking off the henchmen one by one. And he often alleviates his misery with wisecracks and taunts the villain via a walkie-talkie he stole from one of his henchmen.
There isn’t one dull moment with John McClane.
Thankfully, Bruce Willis was up for the part. Though it may seem unlikely now, given his action hero career, before ‘Die Hard’, Willis was considered a lightweight, at best good for middling comedy (and only on ‘Moonlighting’ – his big screen endeavours had been failures). He was most certainly not considered an action star – and many passed the part over first.
It turns out that he is so good in ‘Die Hard’ that no one ever second-guessed his ability again. He was not only able to do the action, but he did it as credibly as anyone could, balanced it with his fine flair for delivering dry wit and wrapped it all up in subtle touches that provided McClane with a deeper emotional life. He created a three-dimensional character.
Of course, the hero is only as good as his counterpart, the villain. And in Alan Rickman, who amazingly had his motion picture debut here, Willis found the perfect person to play off of: Rickman brought intelligence, confidence and craft to the part, making his Hans Gruber the gamemaster in a carefully-designed scenario, who’d even planned ahead for setbacks.
Watching the two duel it out is a real treat: it’s raw, primal awareness vs. sophisticated, cool intellect. It’s thinking fast on your glass-shredded feet versus planning out 15-20 Chess moves ahead. The fact that both are extremely charismatic certainly adds a lot to the mix, because in a way you can’t help but root for both at once, though Gruber is officially the villain.
The rest of the cast is also terrific, though many of them are a bit more cartoony in tone, perhaps to counter the intensity of the Willis’ and Rickman’s performances. Of all the familiar faces in this picture, Reginald VelJohnson stands out as Sgt. Powell, the patrolman who befriends and helps John through his ordeal; he balances humour and seriousness well.
Ultimately, though, ‘Die Hard’ is all about the cat-and-mouse game that takes place between McClane and the villains. Through a series of increasingly risky encounters, we are a left on the edge of our seat, wondering how any of this could possibly end – even after having seen it before. And by the time we get to the film’s stunning dénouement, we are beside ourselves.
And that’s why ‘Die Hard’ remains potent to this day: it slowly draws the audience into its coils until it can no longer escape. Though it requires a moderate amount of suspension of disbelief, thanks to Bruce Willis’ impressive transition to action hero and to Alan Rickman’s fiery debut performance, it explodes onto the screen. Its impact is still being felt now.
If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t lived.
Date of viewing: November 21, 2016