So I watched Die Hard…
One of the reasons why I added Classic Movie Thursday Reviews to my blog is because – while I am a huge fan of movies – there are several classic films which I haven’t got around to watching, Die Hard being one of them. This movie had quite a bit to live up to because for years I’d been told that it’s the quintessential action movie and that John McClane is the granddaddy of all badasses. This much expectation could have easily killed my enjoyment of this movie but like John McClane, my enjoyment refused to go down that easily.
Okay, basic plot: John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a New York police officer visiting Los Angeles with the intention of reconciling with his estranged wife. He meets her at her office which is in the Nakatomi Plaza. The office is currently hosting their Christmas party but the festivities are disrupted when a group of terrorists infiltrate the building. Led by mastermind, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) the group take the employees hostage and demands that the CEO of the company disclose the code to his office’s vault. With no chance of outside intervention, it becomes clear that saving the hostages (including his wife) falls on the shoulders of one man – John McClane.
I think I may have said this in previous posts but I’ll say it again, there was no better time for action movies than the 80’s. Sure we have bigger budgets now, better technology and special effects but there’s a spirit that action films made in the 80’s have that so few modern films are able to reproduce. Maybe it’s that films in the 80’s weren’t as regulated with regards to how much violence they could show; maybe it’s that the lack of technology forced filmmakers to be more crafty and create more engaging characters, either way, 80’s action can’t be beat and Die Hard is a prime example of this.
I’m from a generation where the idea of Bruce Willis’ presence in an action movie being considered a ‘gamble’ is absolutely ludicrous. Even on his worst day he’s still one of the most charismatic and prolific action heroes to ever grace the screen. At the time of Die Hard’s release, Willis was mainly seen as a comedic actor and he was almost the studio’s last choice. The role was originally offered to Slyvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford who all turned it down. I think this is one of those instances where the option you’re forced into taking is actually the best choice. Two of the best things about John McClane are 1. his humour and 2. the fact that he looks like an average Joe. These two qualities make McClane not only an engaging hero but also make his exploits during the film all the more impressive. These are characteristics that would have been sorely lacking if the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger had gotten the part.
Another one of the great movie characters of all time is Hans Gruber who is brought to life masterfully by the late Alan Rickman. Rickman was an expert when it came to portraying villains as he would further showcase in films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the Harry Potter franchise. What I love most about his portrayal of villains especially in the Harry Potter franchise and this film is that his villains are never one note. He manages to conjure up feelings of fear, hatred but most importantly respect; this ensures that his villains – in particular Hans Gruber – are more than just faceless goons who the hero has to defeat. They’re powerful characters who pose an actual threat and their vanquishing at the hands of our protagonist thus means all the more.
Die Hard also contains some of the best crafted action sequences I’ve ever seen. The fact that the film takes place in a single building allows for the action to have a claustrophobic feel and the dangers that McClane has to face always feel imminent. Being an 80’s action film, Die Hard contains its fair share of one-liners and this is where Willis’ comedic background serves him well. He manages to constantly inject levity into the plot and this keeps the film from getting bogged down and overly serious.
As interesting as the film itself is, the events that transpired behind the scenes are just as entertaining. Die Hard faced multiple challenges and went through a myriad of alterations before it became the fun, action-packed classic. The character of John McClane wasn’t finalised until about halfway through shooting, several sections of the script – including the ending – were only completed during shooting and the time period was changed from the original three days to one night to allow for more compact action. I think these changes and last-minute decisions are what give Die Hard and its main character its charm. It’s a little rough around the edges, built to be functional and effective instead of glossy and smooth.
Overall, Die Hard more than lives up to its classic status. It’s one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen and perhaps the best Christmas movie ever made (I’m still too big a fan of Home Alone to give it top spot). It changed the action genre and launched the careers of both Willis and Rickman to new heights. It’s definitely worth watching.