Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favorite Era: Die Hard (1988)

And now, the best Christmas movie ever made.  Sure, A Christmas Story warms the heart and It's a Wonderful Life appeals to the older folks.  But how many Christmas flicks have a guy jumping off the roof of an exploding building, huh?

Seriously though, Die Hard is one of the seminal action movies of the modern era.  By this point, I think everyone knows the setup (Bruce Willis trapped in a building with terrorists on Christmas Eve) so let's get to the good stuff.
  • The first thing I want to bring up is how well constructed the screenplay by Steven de Souza is.  Everything is set up perfectly in an unhurried manner.  It's truly nice to see a movie willing to take its time.  Within the first fifteen minutes or so, every single key cast member is either introduced or referenced.  We know our hero is a cop with a marriage on the rocks; he's a fish out of water to an extent at a Christmas party in Los Angeles and by the fifteen minute mark we've even seen our bad guys...Well, their van at any rate.
  •  Also good is the direction from John McTiernan. 
  • Bruce Willis is fantastic as our Everyman hero for the evening.  John McClane is tough but realistically so, a nice change from the Rambo template most action heroes of the 80's went off of.  He works well with Bonnie Bedelia as Holly McClane who could easily have come across as unpleasant and shrewish given the circumstances.  Instead, she plays a driven but decent carer woman who's trying to make the best of a bad situation.  The tension between the two characters works well because neither one of them is shown to be clearly in the wrong which keeps them both sympathetic.
  • Of course, the performance highlight has to be Alan Rickman as the bad guy Hans.  Rickman is classy, vicious when he needs to be and also quite amusing.  It's a real tour de force.  I especially like his confrontations with Holly's boss (James Shigeta) which ends quite badly for the man and his scene with McClane where he puts on a rather decent American accent to try and come off as a hostage.
  • Alexander Godunov is also enjoyable as Hans' right hand man Karl.  The fight between him and John towards the end is a fantastic bone-crusher of a fight.
  • Two side characters I get a kick out of are William Atherton's jerky reporter and Robert Davi's small role as a jerky FBI agent.  Atherton was the go-to guy in the 80's for smarmy a-holes (fellow jerk Paul Gleason is also on hand as a hapless cop on the scene) and he does his usual quality job that really makes you want to see him get punched in the face.  As for Davi, he's a guy I've always enjoyed and here he delivers his lines in a dry sort of way that just makes me chuckle.
  • The action is fantastic with multiple shootouts, some nicely gory moments (it is, after all a Joel Silver production) and some great one-liners from Willis.  There are some really great stunts such as John climbing around in the innards of the building and the iconic rooftop leap as Hans decided to blow the roof up to try and get rid of the hero once and for all.
  • If there's anything I can honestly say sort of hurts the movie it might be that {Paul Gleason's cop is a little too dumb to be believed.  Still, it's a relatively minor thing and it does to lead to some funny exchanges with McClane and Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson), the one link to the outside John has.
  • A few words about the sequels:  For the most part, I feel they are certainly more consistent than the Lethal Weapon sequels which after the classic original had one great entry (LW2); one okay entry (LW3) and one that I see as sort of a guilty pleasure (the fourth one which has no right to be as enjoyable as it is).  As for the Die Hard sequels, the second is good but a little too much of a remake of the original.  The third is fun as it tries something a little different (the script was initially supposed to be a Lethal Weapon sequel) and the fourth one is merely okay.  I'm looking forward to the fifth one coming out next year, though.
Die Hard still stands as one of the crowning achievements in action films.  It's tense, violent and impeccably put together, and it still works even today.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.