Cert: 18 Runtime: 131 mins Director: John McTiernan Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason and Alan Rickman
Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister
The Ultimate Action film with the ultimate villain.It’s Christmas time in L.A., and there’s an employee party in progress on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Corporation building. The revelry comes to a violent end when the partygoers are taken hostage by a group of terrorists headed by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who plan to steal the 600 million dollars locked in Nakatomi’s high-tech safe. In truth, Gruber and his henchmen are only pretending to be politically motivated to throw the authorities off track; also in truth, Gruber has no intention of allowing anyone to get out of the building alive. Meanwhile, New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) has come to L.A. to visit his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who happens to be one of the hostages. Disregarding the orders of the authorities surrounding the building, McClane, who fears nothing (except heights), takes on the villains, armed with one handgun and plenty of chutzpah.
“Die Hard” is the prototype type for the modern action film. Since it’s also one of the best action films ever made, that happens to be a very good thing. “Die Hard” is lean, mean, and doesn’t contain a single second of wasted screen time. The direction, the action, the story, the acting . . . every aspect of this film comes close to big-budget action movie perfection. Since “Die Hard” was first released in 1988, it’s difficult to think of a blockbuster action film that doesn’t follow the basic structure and format of “Die Hard” . . . or, for that matter, is better than “Die Hard”.
Kudos should be given to both director John McTiernan and screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven DeSouza — the film is tight, electrifying, and clever, which is something few action films can ever claim. The story isn’t completely believable, but it’s believable enough, and it manages to move along at a quick enough pace to where the most glaring plotholes can easily be glossed over. There’s also enough twists and wrinkles thrown into the story to keep the audience guessing as to what’s going to happen next . . . and the surprises don’t come out of left field, but are actually clever and well thought-out. (The fact that McClane often relies on his brains instead of his bullets to get out of his predicaments is also a big plus.) Simply put, “Die Hard” is one of the smartest and savviest action screenplays ever written. McTiernan holds up his end of the film admirably as well he uses the claustrophobic nature of the office building to great effect (particularly in any scene involving an elevator shaft), and he keeps the film rolling at a rollercoaster pace, building up the anticipation of the audience before unleashing the action. A lot of recent action films just fly along at a mindless, breakneck pace, without ever allowing the story to breathe or the suspense to build . . . unlike those films, “Die Hard” knows how to maximize the impact of each and every scene, and that’s why it stands out so clearly from them all. With “Die Hard”, John McTiernan puts on a perfect clinic as to how to pace an action movie.
As for the acting, it’s darn near close to perfect. Bruce Willis is awesome as John McClane. As played by Willis, McClane’s a smartass with a distinct disdain for being given orders . . . but McClane’s also clever, and knows how to keep cool under pressure. There’s more to McClane than the stereotypical tough guy hero. Fortunately, the role was given to Bruce Willis, who infuses McClane with the perfect mix of cocky arrogance and stone-cold heroism.Also worthy of mention is Alan Rickman’s performance as the villain Hans Gruber. The Machiavellian Gruber would’ve been an easy villain to turn into little more than a scenery-chewing Bond villain fortunately, Rickman doesn’t travel the easy route. Gruber, as played by Rickman, is cold and calculating, and actually acts smart, instead of merely claiming to be smart and then being thoroughly outwitted by the hero. He always appears to have an ace hidden up his sleeve, and is so convincing at giving this impression, it’s hard to tell throughout the film whether he or McClane truly have the upper hand. Other actors probably could’ve played Gruber fairly well, but Rickman makes Gruber one of the all-time great villains.
“Die Hard” is a terrific example of what happens when all the pieces of a film fall together perfectly. There simply are no weak spots or dull moments in the film. Is “Die Hard” one of the best overall movies ever made? Probably not. But it’s undeniably one of the best action movies ever made, and it just might well be the perfect modern action film.