Bruce Willis is New York Cop, John McClane, hoping to patch things up with his wife over Christmas, but he is trapped in L.A. at her company’s Christmas party when a gang of criminals enter the building and hold everyone hostage. He escapes with a gun, albeit shoeless, and begins to foil their grand plan. So far, so good, but what sets Die Hard apart from other movies at the time, is its sense of humor, it's sense of realism in the way it is shot and the sense of vulnerability its leading man has. There is a believable core in both the human relationships in the movie but also in the characters themselves. It all leads to the impression of a mature action movie, where consequences matter. Die Hard is adapted from the 1979 novel "Nothing Lasts Forever" by Roderick Thorp. I haven't read it.
Bruce Willis carries the movie with charm and wit. He defuses the most horrible situations with dry humor and attacks every opportunity head on. It gives the movie a great drive and an almost lightheaded feel. He was born for this role.
On the villainous side, the movie impresses with several memorable roles, most of all Alan Rickman as the criminal mastermind, Hans Gruber. He clearly enjoys every moment and plays it just close enough to the line, to remain unpredictable and borderline psychotic. Even smaller villain roles shine, with Clarence Gilyard as the computer wizard, Theo, cutting out his own personality with easy and Alexander Godunov as the German henchman, Karl, delivering a memorable and intense performance through and through. Though his final rise from the grave is questionable, the rest of his scenes are convincing and spot on.
Smaller roles like Argyle, the hyper limo driver, Ellis, the despicable businessman, Sgt. Al Powell, the lovable cop, Holly, the estranged wife, Thornburg, the all-for-the-job TV reporter and several others may be cut-out characters on paper but in the movie, the actors all bring a sense of complexity to their roles. Not all characters have time to really develop, one example being Paul Gleason's Dwayne T. Robinson, who comes off as too dim and one sided.
Director John McTiernan grasps the movie tightly and gets the most of it. Plot-wise, the movie develops in a sensible way and ups the tension and drama with each step, peaking with John McClane throwing himself of the roof of the Nakatomi Plaza amidst a rain of bullets, only attached to a fire hose. In the end, the movie brings a great sense of closure and satisfaction, as well as the wish to stay with these characters just a little while more. That is the sign of great entertainment.
Director of Photography, Jan De Bont is a major asset for the movie. His shots are imaginary and very effective. There are many memorable shots in the pictures, none more than the image of John McClane, hanging in the air at the 30'th floor, kicking at the window, trying to break it, but instead smearing it with blood from his wounded foot.
While there may be plot holes, which stand out more and more on repeated viewings, all is forgiven because the movie's charm and soul simply overpowers anything else.
Endlessly quotable, high on charm and rich on action, this is a movie that lives up to its name and remains a joy to watch, even today. It is also, if you really pushed me to name just one, my favorite action movie of all time.
Written By Steen
Online: Sunday, December 23, 2012