Die Hard (1988)

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I can’t believe I went 28 years without seeing this movie. Seriously, Die Hard is probably my favorite action flick now. It’s a perfect balance between gun fights and jokes. I could watch this a million times and never get sick of it. It’s that good.

A lot of the credit for Die Hard‘s success and endurance goes to Bruce Willis. He’s so perfect as police officer John McLane, it’s strange to think that he wasn’t the first choice for the role. In fact he wasn’t second, third, fourth, or fifth choice. Everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Don Johnson had turned down the role by the time it came to Willis. He was a huge gamble, as he was really only known for the television comedy Moonlighting, but I can’t picture anyone else in this role. Arnold would be too foreign, Johnson not funny enough, Clint Eastwood too old, Richard Gere too well groomed, and Burt Reynolds… uh, just no. Willis definitely proved his action chops, so well in fact that a lot of people forget that he got his start in comedies.

Of course, a good hero needs a worthy opponent. Alan Rickman delivers this as German terrorist Hans Gruber. He maybe did a little too good of a job being bad though, as he’s been somewhat typecast as villains since this role (his first in a feature film). Which isn’t the worst thing ever. He’s lent his evil drawl to some iconic baddies: the Sheriff of Nottingham, Professor Severus Snape, the jerk who cheats on his wife in Love Actually, Ronald Reagan. I can think of worse ways to spend a career.

The story itself hasn’t aged well in the face of new technology (the entire plot would fall apart thanks to cell phones), but it’s still incredibly fun. The main draw is that John McLane comes across as a real cop. Everything he does is believable-ish, like jumping off a building with only a fire hose tied around the waist for safety. This becomes an issue in successive Die Hard installments, but we’ll discuss that later. For now McLane is simply an above average cop, with a smart-ass sense of humor. The perfect action hero for an excellent action film.

Rating: A

So, this is the greatest action movie of all time. I really should just have to write that sentence and the review could be over. Everything about this film just works so well. Bruce Willis is the perfect hero, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Alan Rickman is terrific as the evil terrorist who takes over an office building in downtown Los Angeles. The action is great and there is quite a lot of comedy here. This film is the benchmark for every action film that came after it.

Die Hard follows off duty police officer John McLane (Willis), who is visiting his wife (Bonny Bedelia) for Christmas. She got a really good opportunity in LA and moved there, while McLane stayed in New York. This has caused friction to their marriage, which intensifies even further when McLane discovers she has been using her maiden name since she started working in LA. After arriving from New York, McLane goes to see his wife at her work during the office Christmas party. While he is relaxing in her office, a group of terrorists take over the building and hold everyone hostage. In the confusion, McLane is able to slip away and begins to take out the terrorists one by one, armed only with his wits and a standard issue police revolver. The terrorist leader, Hans Gruber (Rickman), did not expected this rogue cop, and must alter his plans in order to stop him. McLane is on his own until he eventually starts getting assistance from an off duty LA cop (Rejinald VelJohnson), who is outside the building. Together they go about stopping Gruber and saving the hostages, before Gruber can realise that one of them is McLane’s wife.

I’m not sure what more praise I can give this film. The only action film that even comes close to this film is Lethal Weapon, in my opinion. I think there is an appeal to the McLane character because he seems like an everyday guy. I believe that this situation is something that could happen to him and this is how an off duty cop would react. The story is very believable, despite being so outrageous. This is one of the problems with the more recent films, McLane seems more like a superhero, rather than an everyday guy, and the films suffer because of that. Willis’s performance is what sets this film apart from other action stars like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. Those two guys are not like any real person I know. The fact that Willis seems like he could be anyone helps this film work so well. Willis is great as McLane, he a sarcastic and funny leading man who does what he needs to do in order to save his family. McLane’s hero is a great character, who is equalled by Rickman’s performance. Hans Gruber seems like an oily businessman, except he uses a gun to get what he wants.

I love this film. Best. Action Film. Ever.

Rating: A+

9 thoughts on “Die Hard (1988)

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