Movie Review | Die Hard
Movie summary: An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. (IMDb)
Yes, it's time for Die Hard. There's less than a month to Christmas, so obviously my randomiser picks out what many people consider one of the finest Christmas movies there is. It is, after all, a tale about a New York City cop who travels across the country and works through a highly stressful situation leading to reunion with his estranged wife just in time for the festive season.
That 'stressful situation' just happens to be the entirely non-normal takeover of the Nakatomi Plaza by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his band of exceptional thieves masquerading as terrorists so as to take advantage of the ludicrous machismo of the FBI agents who arrive to oversee the situation and play right into their hands.
It's up to John McClane (Bruce Willis) to save the day with little to no help from anyone. What people have to remember about this performance from Willis is that he absolutely was not an action star before Die Hard. It might well be what he is best known for since then thanks to the global fame this movie gave him, but it isn't even the action here that is the reason McClane works so well as a character.
Unlike some modern action stars who have it written into their contract that they can't look too vulnerable in a fight, even counting hits to make sure things are at least even, McClane has the stuffing knocked out of him repeatedly over the course of events and is bruised, bloodied and barely able to stand by the time things wrap up.
That level of humanity helps connect the audience to McClane because he seems in genuine danger so often despite the fact that he's the main character and certain to survive the movie. The other thing that helps is the cynical, wise-cracking attitude that makes you like him even more, although it is made clear that this side of McClane is partly what drove his wife away.
And credit has to go to Bonnie Bedelia as Holly Gennaro McClane, as well as the writers, for making her such a good character too. In a lesser movie, Holly could easily have come across as a generic bitter spouse, but it's made perfectly clear that she is a highly intelligent and formidable person in her own right, displaying her own brand of bravery more than once when dealing with Hans.
Ah, Hans. This might've been the movie that made Willis famous around the world, but I'd argue that this is Rickman's film - after all, a hero is only as good as the villains they face and Hans Gruber is up there as one of the very best in movie history. He's intelligent and charming, with Rickman's charisma ramping it all up to eleven and making the character a joy to watch.
It's not just the central characters either, with the supporting cast also doing great work, whether it's little touches like one of Hans' gang grabbing a bar of candy while waiting for the police to attack to James Shigeta's quiet nobility as Mr Takagi, Holly's boss. The highlight of these supporting characters has to be Ellis though, whose drug-fuelled cockiness doesn't work too well for him when dealing with professional criminals.
Despite all of the above, my favourite part of the movie is when McClane drops explosives down an elevator shaft and causes a detonation so large that some of the criminals believe the police are using artillery on them. It's the reaction of McClane, leaping away in terror from the blast of fire shooting up the elevator shaft, and Hans Gruber's "It's him" that really sells it.
We're reminded again of the hero's vulnerability in what is also a pretty funny moment, while the respect Gruber has for the solo cop makes us like both of them even more. It's the kind of moment that modern action movies don't contain anymore, with most villains reacting angrily to similar situations rather than with the minor irritation we see here as he realises he needs to alter his plans.
Now, is Die Hard a Christmas movie? It's certainly set at the right time of the year and, as stated earlier, it is about a cop travelling across America to patch things up with his wife. It's not a movie about Christmas though, so I don't think it really counts, or you could other movies like Gremlins, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even Iron Man 3 to that list.
Die Hard is one of the best action movies of all time, with so many iconic performances, scenes, images and dialogue that it's quite frankly ridiculous. Younger audiences may find certain moments clichéd, but only because so many movies since have tried to copy what this movie did so well, rarely matching it - including its own sequels.
Why a 10/10? Because I think is one of those movies where it's impossible to do it any better than the movie we got. It's such a fun movie to watch thanks to the amazing characters being performed so well, despite what is a relatively simple premise of lone cop against a band of crooks in a skyscraper. Die Hard is one of those movies that, if it's on TV, I'll happily watch because I know that the next two hours will be wholly enjoyable to watch.