Die Hard review by The Grim Ringler

Whether you are a fan of the genre or not, when it comes to action movies, it’s hard to top the original Die Hard. Sure, there are a lot of great action films, but few are as original and as powerful as the first DH film. Part of the draw was a young Bruce Willis, who was just on the verge of becoming a superstar, part of it is some very strong direction from a very good action director, and part was just a great story that still resonates today, almost twenty years past its release.

The story is a simple one – John McClane (Willis) and his wife Holly are separated and living in different states. He is a New York policeman who doesn’t want to leave NYC and she is an up and coming corporate exec on the fast track to becoming a junior CEO. Neither wants to give up their dream so they separate, she taking the kids and the job to LA and he staying in NYC. Christmas arrives and John decides he’ll surprise Holly and take her up on her offer to visit and travels in first class, arriving at the skyscraper where Holly works and where the corporate party is being held, in a limo. Their reunion doesn’t go as John had hoped, Holly determined to make her job work and angry that John will still not compromise and move to support her, and he frustrated that she can’t find something ‘back home’. During an argument about where they stand Holly is called out to give a speech to her co-workers and John remains behind in the luxury bathroom, trying to collect himself. As he is realizing what a selfish ass he has been a group of terrorists, lead by the merciless Hans Gruber, take the Nakatomi Plaza building and its revelers hostage and John is the only man that can stop them. Playing a deadly game of cat and mouse, John slowly picks away at the terrorists, working from the shadows to get the police to arrive, something that does little more than complicate matters. When it becomes apparent that the only person that can stop Gruber and the terrorists, a group who are not what they appear to be, John begins devising a plan of action that will lead him to a confrontation with the brother of another terrorist he has killed and finally to Gruber himself, who just happens to find out what part Holly plays in the matter.

Well paced and wonderfully over the top, the storyline is still one that is as relevant, perhaps more so, today as it was back in 1988. Setting the film in a skyscraper, a place so many of us work in and have no choice but to trust is safe, was a deviously ingenious bit of work as it shows that there is no safe place to hide from people that mean to commit acts of evil. An idea the world has an even better understanding of now. The smartest thing done in the film though is the casting of Willis and allowing him to be an average Joe that just happens to be in the middle of this terrorist mess. Not a hulking, muscular menace, and not a smarmy secret agent, McClane is the sort of man every person can hope to be – the person that keeps their head when the trouble comes down. A man who will stand and fight for the right cause, no matter what happens to himself. Set in opposition is Hans Gruber, a cultured and worldly man who is everything McClane is not – well traveled, highly educated, and arrogant to a fault. There is an almost instant rapport between hero and villain because they are both men willing to make great sacrifices to get what they want. And they are men who understand that sometimes people must die for something to be done. McClane is the perfect American hero, for the eighties or any era, because he is established as, portrayed as, and even called a ‘cowboy’. He is an archetype of the dream persona we wish we all were. He is the ideal American; ready to fight for the right cause and willing to put his neck out for people he doesn’t know. There are also moments of great silence and introspection in the film, the best being when John and a policeman he has befriended on the outside (Reginald Vel Johnson is great here) are speaking via a walkie-talkie and John learns why the officer is no longer working a street beat any longer. It’s a striking moment because it returns the film and the audience to the humanity and terror of the situation, that innocent people are in harm’s way and that the terrorists are more than willing to sacrifice every last person to get what they want. For an action film there is a lot of depth with the characters here and there are really no clunkers in the cast. Even Holly is portrayed and written as a strong woman who will stand for her dreams. The eighties was an era where more women were taking corporate jobs and men had to suck it up and sometimes deal with the fact that they weren’t the bread winner any longer. Die Hard, for being such a great action film, has a lot of timeless archetypes that, like Star Wars still resonate today.

Well written, acted, and shot by director John McTiernan, this is easily one of the best, if not THE best, action films around. A film that becomes not just a great action film but also a very good film in general. In an era where the American spirit was faltering, and many men were seen as becoming too consumed with their personal grooming habits and the nation wanted old fashioned heroes who stood for more than revenge and personal gain (McClane is the anti-Rambo), Die Hard stood as a beacon of hope in a film world going to the muscle-headed moron loaded down with machine guns and ready to kill at will. McClane was a man willing to make a sacrifice, but not one willing to kill without reason or cause. And ya can’t get much more cowboy than that. Yippie-Ki-yay…


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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