Die Hard (1988) Movie Review

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Name me 1 thing that contributed towards making the 1980s a highly memorable decade for entertainment.  1 answer to this question?  That’s easy – how about a Christmas movie that happens to be 1 of the most legendary action thrillers of all time?  This is what Die Hard is, and well over 25 years later it remains a staple among those who love something a little different around this time year (and any other time of year for that matter).

Set in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, NYPD cop John McClane (played by Bruce Willis, who was known as a comedy actor up to this point, not an action star) arrived at the airport with a giant teddy bear and cigarette in his mouth (remember those days?), he then gets a surprise when he is picked up by a Limo.  The limo takes him to his wife’s work, where a party is being held.  After meeting up his wife Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia) he goes to relax in the private bathroom, change clothes and recover from his jet lag.  Shortly afterwards a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (played by 42 year old Alan Rickman in his 1st major role) take over the building, hold everyone at the party hostage, and then proceed in trying to rob the company.  At first they’re unaware of John’s presence – leading to an action film that would still be looked at, referred to and parodied by students, filmmakers and comedians to this day.

What makes Die Hard a special kind of action film is in its foundations.  The explosions are impressive, the gun fights are still fresh today, and there was a fair bit of blood.  And while these may be important to a good action film, what made Die Hard great was its tight, well-written script, and both its likeable and amusing characters.  Everything that is seen or heard in the film has a purpose, and every necessary checkpoint to advance the story was hit well and in excellent order.  Even the quiet scenes were John would eat snacks and talk on the police radio in between gun fights where necessary to the story.  The humour shines throughout the film, even in its most intense scenes (similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe), leading to some very amusing dialogue and great one-liners…It’s also amusing (and yet important to the plot) that John McClane would actually go through nearly the whole film bare foot.  Yes there are advantages because shoes are easier to hear on concrete, but this is the ’80s!  There’s glass everywhere!  It’s like Chow Yun-Fat carrying the baby in John Woo’s Hard Boiled.  Also, why didn’t any of the terrorists just step on his feet?  Ah well, the movie’s over, I can’t dwell too much on the past.

The music in Die Hard is used amusingly, ranging from Christmas songs like Let It Snow, Jingle Bells, Christmas In Hollis by RUN DMC, to bouncy, adventurous scores, to Bach and Beethoven (this film features Ode To Joy in a great way).  Everything worked, even if RUN DMC might go over the heads of some people today.

A new question to ask is why Die Hard is not only a product of the ’80s, but at essence a timeless classic.  The best answer that can be provided is this…Die Hard is fun.  And fun is timeless when it’s done really well.  John McClane is a fun hero.  Hans Gruber is a fun villain.  John McClane fighting terrorists is fun.  John McClane messing with the terrorists’ heads and plans is fun.  Seeing the Police, FBI and News Media mess up John’s plans is funny…They even got Walter Atherton (the environmental D-Bag in Ghostbusters) to play a reporter, which was pretty awesome.

It’s also interesting to note that this film is based on a 1979 novel called Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, a sequel to his other novel The Detective.  The Detective was also made into a film, which starred Frank Sinatra in McClane’s role…kind of odd when you think about it…So I’m not surprised if it was decided that Die Hard should become its own story – borrowing important plot elements in the book, and then adding creative license and its own identity on top of that.  Providing the advice that artists need to know, that talent borrows and genius steals.

Is Die Hard a recommended film?  I don’t really need to answer that.  Yes, this movie’s director John McTiernan may not have made that many great films, but you have to admit, for 3 years he really was on a role, which included his movie Predator.  If you have seen this movie before, it’s good to watch again, and if you haven’t, look for it. A great Christmas movie.

Overall: ***** out of 5

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