MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta/ Runtime: 132 minutes
I feel it might be kind of obvious to say, but I think that there are certain films which have come to define certain genres. For thrillers there is the movie Psycho, for horror there is Halloween, and for romance there will always be Romeo and Juliet to name but a few examples. However when it comes to what constitutes as a film that defines the modern day action film, I definitely feel that the 1988 action thriller Die Hard should most certainly be on the list for consideration. Indeed this is one of those rare films where not only is every minute of film utilized to the fullest extent of engaging the audience possible, but everything from the directing to the acting by a perfectly chosen cast is all spot on. Thus when you combine all of these winning elements together, what you are left with is a result that has helped make Die Hard a true classic of the action thriller genre. Indeed many have tried, but few if any have managed to meet the standard that was set by this film all the way back in 1988.
The plot is as follows: Die Hard tells the story of John McClane. A good cop in the NYPD with a penchant for annoying the ever loving heck out of most people, McClane has come to Los Angeles with the singular mission of making amends with his wife Holly who has moved there with their 2 kids due to work. To that end, he decides to go to her work Christmas party, and try to get some time with her to see if they can work out their issues. Of course it isn’t long before this Christmas dream quickly turns into a nightmare courtesy of an armed takeover by a gang of criminals led by a sophisticated mastermind named Hans Gruber. However, while the gang is rounding everyone up, McClane manages to sneak away, and with no other options available, decides to take on the bad guys himself and begins hunting them down one by one….
Now I feel it must be said, but major props should be given to both director John McTiernan and also the screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven DeSouza. The reason is because Die Hard is a wonderful example of that rare breed of action film which, from beginning to end, is consistently tight, electrifying, and clever. Indeed to be fair, this film’s storyline may not be the most completely plausible in the entire world. Yet I feel that not only is it believable enough to seem realistic, but the film as a whole really does a wonderful job of moving at a satisfying enough clip that I strongly feel even the most obvious plot holes can easily be brushed aside by even the most cynical of viewers. Indeed this film also does a wonderful job of containing enough turns and curves to throw into the story to keep the audience guessing as to what’s going to happen next. Yet, even more astonishingly, this film’s surprises do not once ever come out of the left field gate. Instead they are actually all items that were actually extremely clever and remarkably well thought-out by the makers of the film. Indeed it really should be obvious from the very first time you view the full film, but in my opinion I honestly feel that Die Hard has got to undoubtedly contain one of the smartest and by equal measure savviest screenplays ever written for a film in the action thriller genre.
Not wanting to be outdone by his film’s writers however, director John McTiernan manages to hold up his end of the film ball game admirably also. Indeed this is a director who brilliantly manages to utilize to the fullest the claustrophobic nature of the office building where 90% of this film is set to tremendously wonderful effect, with especially poignant regard to any of the scenes in the film that deal with McClane inside an elevator shaft. McTiernan also does a fantastic job of recognizing that this film will only be successful if he can keep everything rolling as it should at no less a pace than that of a roller coaster. To that end, McTiernan also wisely decides to build up the audience and their anticipation for chaos to go down just before gleefully unleashing all of this film’s anarchy and destruction much to the delight of audiences all over. Indeed it saddens me to say, but a lot of recent action films here lately it seems just want to zoom along at a mindless, breakneck pace, without ever allowing the story to breathe, the suspense to build, or the audience to ever have a moment where they genuinely actually care about what’s going and also who is involved. Yet, unlike those films, I feel that what is so brilliant about this film is that this film really does have the knowledge on just how exactly a filmmaker and his crew should go about maximizing the impact of each and every scene that an action film contains from beginning to end. Indeed it should go without saying, but with this film, we as audience members are given a free class, with no student loans attached thank God, on the absolute best and most riveting way to how to pace, write, and shoot an action movie that audiences will immensely enjoy.
As for this film and the performances contained within, well the best way to describe those is I would say that they are darn near as close to perfection as one could hope to get in these movies. This of course starts with Bruce Willis who was then, and still is now, a true treat to watch as John McClane. Indeed, when put in Willis’ hands, McClane really did become this composite character who is both a smartass with a distinct disdain for being given orders yet also clever, and who knows how to keep cool under pressure when everyone else around him is panicking. Suffice it to say then that there’s more to McClane than the stereotypical tough guy hero and thus required a performer who could pull off what was required for the part. Fortunately, the role was given to Bruce Willis, and he is exactly what the doctor ordered. Indeed Willis manages to infuse McClane with just the right amounts of cocky arrogance, stone-cold heroism, and also disbelief of his own situation, and who struggles in his fight against bad guys instead of just killing bad guys with ease. Indeed when you combine all of those elements together, you not only have succeeded in making the character that much more believable for audiences, but you have also contributed a darn near close to brilliant performance in the process. Suffice it to say that in Hollywood there’s truly only a handful of movies where we see that the lead role and the actor playing said role are a completely perfect match. I say this because without a doubt, Bruce Willis as John McClane will always be one of those perfect matches.
Also worthy of mention however is Severus Snape ehhh Alan Rickman’s performance as head villain Hans Gruber. Indeed this is a case where the slimy yet sophisticated Gruber, in the hands of a lesser actor, would’ve become this caricature of a Bond villain without a Bond film to call his own (trust me; we got a LOT of those in this time period). Fortunately, Rickman makes the wise decision not to travel the road more traveled. Instead we are treated to a villain who is cold, calculating, ruthless, and who actually acts smart, instead of merely claiming to be smart. Indeed it always seems like Gruber consistently has at least one more ace hidden up his sleeve, and as such, it’s extremely hard to tell throughout the film whether he or McClane truly have the upper hand until the film’s end. Indeed while I’m sure there are other actors who probably could’ve played Gruber fairly well, Gary Oldman for me definitely fits on that list, I do however also feel that it is through the performance given by Rickman that Gruber has, understandably so, since become one of the all-time great villains in an action film.
As for the rest of the cast, they’re all pretty good as well. This of course starts with Reginald VelJohnson who, despite looking like he just walked off the set of Family Matters, does a wonderful job as McClane’s reluctant LAPD ally on the ground Sgt. Powell. Bonnie Bedelia also does a nice job as John’s wife-he’s-in-a-complicated situation with Holly. Indeed this really could have become a one-note and quite cliché character yet Bedelia manages to play Holly with equal parts smarts and feistiness that she really makes Holly a three-dimensional character rather than just another addition to the Hall of “damsel in distress in an action flick” Fame. Finally it’s also worth mentioning that I think Paul Gleason, who plays the bullheaded to a t police chief Robinson, does a wonderful job. More importantly than that however, he actually managed all on his own to set up the modern-day stereotype of the stubborn authority figure who absolutely refuses to ever heed the advice of the maverick hero in an action movie to a t. Indeed it truly is no spoiler that this character is absolutely ignorant through and through yet Gleason makes him a marvel to endure rather than an annoyance, and he’s wonderful to watch because of that.
All in all Die Hard is what happens when all the elements necessary for a film to succeed beyond all expectations all manage to fall into place exactly as they should. Indeed, Die Hard is not only of the best movies to come out of the 80’s, but it really truly is one of the best action films ever made period. Indeed if you haven’t seen this movie yet then do yourself a favor and watch it sooner rather than later and prepare to be amazed. I promise you; you will not regret it. On a scale of 1-5 I give Die Hard a 4.5 out of 5.
On behalf of everyone for At the Movies I would just like to wish all of you the Happiest of Holidays! Open some gifts, watch some holiday movies, as long as it’s not Cats, and just make the most of the time with those you love and we’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag