Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Die Hard

Title: Die Hard
Director: John McTiernan
Released: 1988
Staring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald Veljohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush, Alexander Godunov

Plot: Flying into LA on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly (Bedilia), New York cop John McClane (Willis) is invited to her company Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza, only to have the festivities interrupted by armed terrorists led by criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (Rickman) quickly taking over the building and leaving John as the last hope for the hostages now trapped inside.

Review: Since it’s release “Die Hard” has been a long time favourite amongst action fans, while regularly being the movie which was named when I asked people what their favourite Christmas movie was, which might surprise some people but it is quite rightfully a Christmas movie, if an extremely action packed and violent one!

Released at the height of the 80's Action movie craze it is now seen as being one of the best action films of the era. Based on the Roderick Thorp novel “Nothing Lasts Forever”, a sequel to his earlier novel “The Detective” which was also filmed with Frank Sinatra whose decision to not star in the sequel, which may have had alot to do with being offered the role at the age of 73 thanks to a contractual clause which entitled him to first refusal on the sequel. I was also a decision which would also be the main reason that the book was turned into the film we now all know and love, allowing director McTiernan to make minor tweaks to the story to “help bring more joy” to the story especially after describing the original screenplay as “a nasty piece of work” and in doing so made the character of McClane younger than he is in the book, which in turn helped pave the way for Willis to make his break into movies, in what at the time must have been a really surprising choice for the role, especially seeing how his only role at that point had been on the long running TV series “Moonlighting” which he was still filming during the shoot and even more so when this was the age of the pumped action hero with Stallone and Schwarzenegger being the ones cleaning up at the box office. McTiernan also changed the political motivations of the terrorists to make them a group of thieves portraying themselves as terrorists, which is really sold by the Rickman who here also makes his feature film debut as the charismatic and highly quotable Hans Gruber in yet another surprising casting choice, but could anyone else really play this role as well as he does?

Essentially the story of one man having a very bad day, John McClane is an everyman kind of hero, as he’s not a pumped up marine or trained in any kind of tactics for handling terrorists but rather a balding New York cop surviving on his wits alone and generally making things up as he goes and constantly seen questioning his own actions as a result of this. Meanwhile the sole support is more morally via fellow police office Al with hold McClane frequently talks to over his CB radio, as he frequently inspires McClane to keep going especially as his situation seems all the more hopeless, as his supplies begin to run low and his injuries start rack up. What also makes his character stand apart from other action heroes is his use of humour, as rather than cracking corny catchphrases when he kills off a bad guy, as he instead continually makes wisecracks often for his own amusement and frequently to taunt Hans. Still seeing how both Stallone and Schwarzenegger turned down the role, it’s interesting to think if McClane would have retained any of these traits in the hands of one of these pumped up action stars?

Still the key thing which also makes this film stand out from the other action films of the 80’s is that McClane unlike his contemporise is not invincible and injures just like any other regular guy, while still managing to live up to the promise of the title as he frequently proves to be a very hard man to kill, even when he’s the one putting himself in the most suicidal of positions such as his leap from the top of the building using a fire hose, with almost every situation frequently seeing McClane questioning his actions, as he knows instinctively how much he is out of his depth, yet still he refuses to give up, still it's funny that out of the things which have been frequently carried across the films is his now trademark grubby vest, which like every inch of his body is covered in grime and filth, a radical departure from the usual heroes who would somehow remain miraculously clean throughout, much like their injuries which they simply shake off, yet when McClane is injured he stays injured, most noticeably after being forced to walk barefoot across broken glass, which leaves him with a noticeable limp for the rest of the film, with McTiernan’s keen eye also making sure that even the smallest of details are not over looked as seen by the bloody footprints that McClane leaves on the window pane as he pushes away from it.

While “Die Hard” runs through the usual action movies motions, what also helps to separate it from other films from the era, is how developed the characters even with supporting bad guys such as Karl, we still get the feeling that you know more about these characters than their primary motives for doing the things that they do, with Hans being possibly the most developed bad guy to ever appear in an action movies thanks to the various hints to his background peppered throughout, from referencing his classical education, to general banter between himself and his henchmen which is a real change of pace from the info dump back story we have come to expect were normally the hero discusses said bad guy with their superior while going through a heavy looking file on said bad guy.

For some unknown reason “Die Hard” has remained pretty timeless and can still be viewed as the solid action flick it is, without any of the cheese that other 80’s action movies are frequently associated with, while undoubtedly being a great choice for Alternative Christmas viewing.


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