Die Hard

(This review includes spoilers.)

Ellis: "What does he think he's doing?"
Holly: "His job."

Often imitated but never duplicated, Die Hard was so skillfully written, acted and shot that it raised the bar for the action thriller. There isn't a wasted or boring scene in the entire movie. And it could have been so forgettable.

I've always liked Bruce Willis. He's a decent actor with a lot of charm and a "real guy" feel to him that works especially well for this movie. Willis was able to make tough, superhuman John McClane appear vulnerable, and that's the key to his character. That, and his bare feet. (What a terrific writing choice that was.) It's never the highly publicized image of him jumping off the roof tied to a fire hose that I remember; it's him dragging himself across the floor of the bathroom with blood literally pouring out of his bare feet. When McClane is totally exhausted, limping and covered with blood, you sort of want to hug him. After wiping him off, that is.

The supporting cast is just excellent. Alan Rickman is a joy as Hans Gruber, the big bad; you can't help sort of liking the guy. Bonnie Bedelia does well as McClane's quest object, his estranged wife Holly. Other standouts are Reginald Veljohnson as Al Powell the cop, William Atherton as a totally despicable reporter, and Paul Gleason as Deputy Police Chief Robinson, who made nearly everything he said really, really funny. I also liked the nasty FBI guys Johnson and Johnson, no relation. And the tall, blond German thugs added just the right touch of Nazi.

Al Powell in particular has the most important supporting role, because he is McClane's sounding board. McClane is completely alone and on the ragged edge throughout the entire movie, but he is able to express what he's thinking and feeling in scene after scene by talking on the walkie with Al. What makes this plot device even more effective is that we're always aware that the bad guys are listening, too, and learning about McClane just as we are. Again, excellent writing.

There are so many great little touches that enhance the movie, too: the opening jet lag conversation about making fists with your toes that beautifully sets up McClane taking off his shoes; the often parodied sequence as he's crawling through the ductwork; glancing at a worker's nude calendar girl as he hurries past, not once, but twice; the sequence with the jagged conference room table. I especially like the bit of silliness with the thug stealing the candy bars before the big shoot-out.



Die Hard manages to work as a Christmas movie, too. John and Holly are estranged, but the crisis at Nakatomi brings them back together at Christmas as they learn to accept each other's choices in life. The classy party with Ode to Joy. The Santa hat on the dead terrorist. "Let It Snow" playing as tons of paper flutter to the ground. Holiday strapping tape holding the gun to John's back.

And hey, McClane's wife is named Holly. Coincidence? I think not.

Bits and pieces:

— The Nakatomi building was "played by" Fox Plaza, which had just been built, and the real address is what is given in the movie: 2121 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. It's not far from where I live.

— The constant references to John Wayne, Rambo, and so on were an acknowledgement that John McClane was a new type of action movie hero.

— The sleeveless white undershirt (I hate the term 'wife-beater') that McClane wore really worked for the character, too. It got bloodier and dirtier as the movie progressed and ended up wrapped around McClane's foot. And it showed the huge, real-life scar Bruce Willis has on his shoulder, adding another touch of vulnerability to the character.

— Argyle the clueless limo driver was a bit much. But I liked that he got to be a hero, too. And the limo was used well as both an opener and a closer.

— Of course, they had to do sequels, and they're good action movies. But I'm not a fan of the sequels. They never quite replicated the magic of the original.

Quotes:

Hans: (reading what McClane wrote on the dead man's shirt) "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."

Woman: "Attention, whoever you are. This channel is reserved for emergency calls only."
McClane: "No fucking shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?"

McClane: (crawling through an air vent) "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..."

Hans: "You know my name, but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?"
McClane: "Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers, actually. I really like those sequined shirts."
Hans: "Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?"
McClane: "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker."

Robinson: "Jesus Christ, Powell, he could be a fucking bartender for all we know."
(I'm sure this was deliberate, since Bruce Willis was a bartender before he hit big as an actor.)

McClane: "Is the building on fire?"
Al: "No, but it's gonna need a paint job and a shitload of screen doors."

Al: "You still with us?"
McClane: "Yeah. But all things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

McClane: "I promise I will never even think about going up in a tall building again."

Robinson: (after the helicopter goes down) "We're gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess."

Action movies aren't my genre, but I love Die Hard. It's the best at what it is. And it deserves four out of four Odes to Joy,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

17 comments:

Google Girl likes Christmas movies said...

Nice review and I agree.

My favourite bit of silliness is when he has a gun in the plane right at the beginning and he says something along the lines of "It's okay, I'm a cop." Alright, so that may just be a sign of the times, just like the non Arab terrorists (I wish that would change in today's movies...), but it always makes me chuckle nonetheless

Truly one of my favourite Christmas movies (that and The Shining)!

Mark Greig said...

There are no ifs or buts about it, Die Hard is the greatest action/Christmas/Bruce Willis film ever made.

Mark said...

I'm having trouble with the "Billie's favorite movies" link. Will it list others on your list, even if you don't get around to reviewing them? :-)

Good point about vulnerability. Seems contradictory, but I think it is the quiet moments that can push action movies into the "classic" category, if they are done right. (Rather than just piling on more senseless action, or fake characterization.) That bathroom scene also added depth to Powell. The eventual payoff (that triumphant music, and the touch of sadness when Powell realizes what he has done) stick in my mind.

Just rewatched "Speed". Still immensely enjoyable, but the scene I appreciated a little more was when the Traven character reacted to news of his friend Temple. He didn't just get angry, he had a full meltdown. After seeing Keanu's character remain calm through all the crazy stuff, then to see him lose it that way, was a nice touch. (And it let the Annie character do something important for him, by bringing him back.)

Billie Doux said...

Mark, I like Speed a lot, too. The link to my favorite movies should work; it should say "all posts with the label Billie's Favorite Movies" and Die Hard should be at the top.

Greg said...

I actually prefer "Speed" to "Die Hard" ever so slightly in terms of pure action movies (although for me the kings of this genre have to be the "Bourne" movies). There's something about how well they're able to keep a movie set almost entirely on a bus interesting that's rather impressive. That being said, "Die Hard" is without question an exciting and memorable film that has given rise to an insane amount of imitators over the years (none of which have managed to come anywhere near it in terms of quality), as you rightly pointed out in your review. Good selection.

The "now I have a machine gun" bit is probably my favorite in the entire film, by the way.

Mark said...

I can't imagine anyone other than Rickman saying that line the way he does.

Okay, the link does work. My mistake was clicking "show older posts" instead of scrolling down the page. :-b

Gus Brunetti said...

Greg, if you're impressed at Speed for being mostly on a bus, you should watch Hithcock's Lifeboat (which is entirely on a lifeboat) and Rope (they never leave the apartment and the movie was made in viryally one take). A spoiler, though: they're not action movies.

Josie Kafka said...

I read recently that TV episodes that take place entirely in one closed location (like Doctor Who's "Midnight") are called bottle episodes.

Can we call these movies bottle movies?

Greg said...

Gus, I have seen "Rope" and loved it (although among Hitchcock films there are at least 4-5 I love more). I have not seen "Lifeboat", but I've heard it's good.

And I think it's fair to call these types of movies "bottle movies". Although the idea behind a bottle episode is to save money in order to ensure costs stay in check. Hitchcock's motivation with "Rope" wasn't to save money: it was a creative decision that worked brilliantly. Still, I suppose the term is appropriate.

"Speed" would not qualify as a bottle movie, though. Though most of it takes place inside the bus, there are numerous shots taken from the outside (not to mention plenty of cuts to the police investigation). I'm trying to think of other examples, as long as we're throwing this new term around. The only that immediately comes to mind is another Hitchcock film: the brilliant "Rear Window" (my favorite Hitchcok film, if you're wondering). I would imagine it's harder to make an entire movie like that than it is to make an episode of television.

Gus Brunetti said...

I agree. Let's make it a technical term.

Josie Kafka said...

You heard it here first, folks.

Would Event Horizon count? I haven't seen it in years, but doesn't it take place entirely on the ship?

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

One thing to remember about bottle episodes is that they're designed to save money so that the show runners can afford the more expensive sweeps episodes on the same annual budget. A such, big studio movies with explosions, elaborate set designs and special effects like Die Hard, Speed, Event Horizon and obviously Titanic don't really fit the spirit.

Bottle filmmaking (the common term currently in use) is usually limited to independent pictures and b-movies like Bug (very interesting movie by the way), House of 9 (familiar concept, great ending), Cube (original concept, bleh ending) Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, My Dinner with Andre, Paranormal Activity, and pretty much every movie from the Full Moon direct-to-video library (which I highly recommend if you're the sort that can look past a low budget and some ropey storytelling).

I'm not sure movies based on a play count since their setting has more to do with the source material than any budgetary restriction.

Jay said...

Great review.

I agree that the "everyman" vibe that Bruce Willis brings, makes the movie. Nowadays most action movies star super human freaks doing incredible stunts, taking all of the suspense and throwing it out the window.

Also, you can tell a great movie when you lose track of how many times you've seen it, and you STILL don't consider changing the channel when its on.

ChrisB said...

I hadn't seen this movie in years, so I re-watched it tonight. I'm having a Christmas action movie marathon.

Oddly, it didn't hold up that well for me. I love Alan Rickman and, of course, there are some wonderful moments. But, it all seems a bit dated to me now.

I mean, when's the last time you saw an action hero smoke?

Josie Kafka said...

When you reposted this review for Christmas, Billie, I read it and thought to myself, "Wow, I don't remember much of that movie." So I just watched it. And y'know what? I'd never seen it before. I just thought I had.

It's fun! Very well done action movie. And John McClane is a great hero.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Just for fun, this video shows how much damage (financially speaking) was done during the events of this film.

Josie Kafka said...

The Honest Trailer for Die Hard just came out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kXMaToMQTE


If you've seen other Honest Trailers, this one will surprise you. They have almost no complaints.