Friday, June 13, 2014

#1,397. Die Hard (1988)

Directed By: John McTiernan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

Tag line: "It will blow you through the back wall of the theater!"

Trivia: Because he had appeared in 1968's The Detective, which was also based on a novel by Richard Thorp, Fox was contractually obligated to offer Frank Sinatra the lead role in this film. He turned it down

I’m watching Die Hard a tad early (or a tad late, depending on how you look at things). Seeing as it's story takes place at Christmas time, this 1988 action classic has been a Holiday fixture around my house for years (I normally wait until the middle or end of December to watch it, by which point I’ve had my fill of Holiday cheer and am ready for a kick-ass movie). This past December, I relied on Lethal Weapon (another “sort-of” Christmas movie) to break up the sugary-sweet monotony, but most years, it's Die Hard that gets the job done.

It’s Christmas time, and New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) has just arrived in L.A. to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Catching a ride with limo driver Argyle (De'voreaux White), McClane makes his way to the Nakatomi building, where Holly’s company (which is headquartered there) is having their annual Christmas party on the 30th floor. 

But the couple’s happy reunion is cut short when a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), bursts into the Nakatomi and starts taking hostages, one of whom is Holly. 

McClane, who was in the bathroom changing at the time, sneaks away to do a little spying on Gruber, and manages to uncover his plan: to steal over $600 million in bonds that are neatly tucked away in the company’s safe. 

Yet what Gruber didn’t count on was McClane, a feisty city cop who, hiding throughout the building, knocks off a few of his henchmen while also alerting the police. Over the course of the evening, McClane does what he can to disrupt the terrorists' grand scheme. But how long will it be before a confused Gruber figures out who McClane is, and why he’s there, a revelation that would immediately put Holly in the greatest of danger?

As action movies go, Die Hard is a perfect storm, a stunt-filled shoot-‘em-up with a great lead character, a superb villain, and tons of excitement to get our collective pulses pounding. Through much of the movie, Willis' John McClane has the upper hand on Gruber, staying one step ahead of the terrorists and even generating a few laughs as he does so (after killing one baddie, McClane paints a note on his dead body, a message for Gruber that reads “Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho”). 
Alan Rickman is equally good in the role of Hans Gruber, a cold, calculating thief who has meticulously planned everything out, only to have his perfect scheme threatened by McClane. 

Also good are Reginald VelJohnson as the policeman on ground level who keeps McClane abreast (via walkie-talkie) of what the police and F.B.I. are planning to do; and William Atherton as a reporter whose tenacity nearly leads to disaster. But in the final scheme of things, Die Hard is the “Willis & Rickman show”. 

Sure, the action is insane; along with all the gunfights and explosions, there’s a thrilling sequence involving a fire hose. Yet what makes Die Hard so very intense is the game of cat and mouse that develops between McClane and Gruber, leaving us wondering at every turn which one will prove to be the cat.

The summer of 1988 was a great season for film buffs; I was working at McDonald’s at the time, and luckily, many of my co-workers were also movie fans. Aside from Die Hard, the group of us checked out Eddie Murphy’s brilliant Coming to America; the John Candy / Dan Aykroyd comedy The Great Outdoors; and the Robert DeNiro / Charles Grodin buddy adventure Midnight Run
I also caught a couple of films with my father and brother that same summer: the raunchy baseball sex comedy Bull Durham, and the hilarious A Fish Called Wanda

All are entertaining in their own right, but the best of the bunch is easily Die Hard, a movie that is - and quite possibly always will be - the quintessential action flick.


David said...

Though I never had the privilege of seeing this in the cinema when it first came out (I can't have been more than twelve months old) I still regard it as a game changer in the action genre. In John McClane we have a relatable everyman action hero who feels pain when he gets hurt and gets by more on wit and determination than superhuman strength. He feels like just an everyday guy (though a particularly tenacious and touch one) put into the context of an action movie situation and that's an awesome thing to behold. Another fantastic review of a classic movie Doc!

- David

Unknown said...

Yes, David, I completely agree. John McClane is like a powerless Spider-man. He is the everyday Joe that we all other Joes can relate to. He is Peter Parker... in a way.