#87 Die Hard
(1988, John McTiernan)
I like to think I’m a reasonably intelligent man. I like to think I enjoy movies with an intelligent agenda or an important message. I like subtext, I like good characterisation, I like realism. Basically, I like movies that make me think. And yet, every time I watch 80s action movies I reduce to a giggling child as I enjoy all the explosions, one-liners and shooting. And no film is more effective than doing that to me than Die Hard.
It stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, a New York cop who’s travelled to California to meet with his estranged wife at a Christmas party at her workplace in the Nakatomi Tower. But then a group of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman with an unconvincing accent) arrives and holds everyone hostage. Except McClane, who escapes and proceeds to go on a one-man mission to defeat the entire group of terrorists, save his wife and win the day.
Die Hard ticks every clichéd box for 80s action movies. Bruce Willis runs around while people get shot and things blow up all over the shop, occasionally delivering one-liners. The bad guy is played by an English actor (seriously, Hollywood, stop that). Stuff blows up again. The bad guy’s mooks can’t shoot straight. Stuff blows up some more. And there’s an incredibly clichéd speech about not giving up and McClane doing it for his kids delivered by a cop (although he doesn’t die, which is a shocking break from tradition). It’s by the numbers, but dear god, it’s so much FUN.
Anyone looking for musings on why the terrorists are running around trying to steal stuff can look elsewhere. This is two hours of pure action. It doesn’t ask questions, it doesn’t try to tell us anything about the human condition, and it isn’t interested in questioning reality or society or anything else. It’s just one man against a bunch of bad men, no more, no less.
What seems to elevate this over other action movies of the era is that it seems acutely aware of its own status as a typical action movie and chooses to simply revel in it. There’s no irony here, just a general sense of everyone involved having the time of their life. Willis in particular seems to be having the time of his life.
Something elevates this above the competition though. Perhaps it’s the fact that John McClane is much more of an everyman than other action heroes, spending much of the movie getting bruised and bloody, and the longer it all goes on, the more visibly he seems to tire. This may be explained by McClane slicing his feet open on glass partway through the film and losing a lot of blood in the process.
McClane also doesn’t just run in and shoot everyone. He survives through outwitting them, and by thinking on his feet as the situation changes. He’s not a dumb action hero, running in all guns blazing, but his plans also occasionally falter, keeping him human – a notable example is McClane detonating some explosives in an elevator shaft, not realising the blast was going to shoot back up towards him.
Die Hard is just plain awesome. It’s silly, it’s clichéd and it’s brings very little new to the action genre. However, it succeeds just by being so entertaining throughout.
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov & Bonnie Bedelia
Written by Roderick Thorp (novel – Nothing Lasts Forever), Jeb Stuart & Steven E. de Souza
Produced by Lawrence Gordon & Joel Silver
Music by Michael Kamen
Cinematography by Jan de Bont
Edited by John F. Link & Frank J. Urioste
Favourite Scene: “Maybe this will teach you to kill someone when you have the chance?” *Bruce Willis proceeds to kill him* “Thanks for the advice” Perfect one-liner
Scene That Bugged Me: Not a scene, but Alan Rickman’s “German” accent. Sorry, but no.
Watch it if: You want to disengage your brain and have the time of your life for 2 hours
Avoid it if: You have no sense of fun