Die Hard (1988) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, nudity, language, and a scene of drug use
Running time: 131 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, Alexander Gudonov, William Atherton, De'voreaux White, Hart Bochner
Director: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza (based on the book, "Nothing Lasts Forever", by Roderick Thorp
Review published July 14, 2007
A superstar-making movie for Bruce Willis (Hudson Hawk, Pulp Fiction), and a hell of an action flick on its own terms, Die Hard set a standard for high-concept, high-octane action blockbusters that few could touch on the silver screen -- even its higher budgeted sequels. Few know that the film is actually a loose adaptation of a book by Roderick Thorp from the late 1970s, although the joys of the film lie mostly in the well-developed set-up and characterizations, not to mention great action sequences, rather than the rather straightforward terrorist plot at the heart of the film. It's also one of the few films where the wisecracking hero's one-liners are actually funny.
The plot involves New York cop John McClane flying out to Los Angeles to attend the swanky party of his separated wife Holly's (Bedelia, Presumed Innocent) company on an upper floor of their high-rise corporate building. However, the company didn't intend to have party crashers, particularly gun-toting German terrorists who want to rob the big boss blind while holding the employees hostage. The terrorists are led by international mastermind Hans Gruber (Rickman, Dogma), who makes one major blunder in not taking into account that there would be one guest who manages to get away unseen, McClane, who does his duty as a good cop by doing everything possible to foil their plans. Using his street smarts and physical prowess, McClane throws a monkey wrench in Gruber's works, but these terrorists are ruthless, cunning, and deadly. Not to mention, they also have McClane's wife.
Die Hard isn't what one would call a thinking-man's thriller, but it is a case where the formula is done right for popcorn movie fare. With plenty of action, incredible stunts, pithy lines, and good performances to anchor it, John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) sets the table for over two hours of action movie-lover's bliss, as things blow up, and we actually care about what happens in the end.
Many people, including myself, questioned seeing Bruce Willis, formerly known as just a light comedic actor, as an action hero. Willis proves us wrong by first establishing that there is nothing remarkable about McClane at all -- he's just a normal New York City cop who is out of his element in a new environment and pretty much unsettled about everything in his life. He has normal problems, normal feelings. Bruce Willis isn't Rambo or John Wayne, and even rejects the notion when presented in q poignant question by Hans himself. Although Beverly Hills Cop would come before with a similar premise of a street-smart, blue collar cop transplanted to California who wisecracks, Die Hard proved that the sky was the limit as far as what normal guys can do, and it does it with style, verve and wit.
The action does falter a bit toward the end when McTiernan reveals he's making a popcorn movie after all, as he opts for a few clichés and moments of crowd-pleasing formula antics, letting the supporting characters have a role in clobbering a bad guy or two. By the time these moments occur, we're willing to overlook them after being sated by watching two hours of action well done. It's hard to gripe at a film that delivers everything you could want in an action picture, then gives you even more.
-- Followed by Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and A Good Day to Die Hard(2013).
©2007 Vince Leo