Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on July 20, 1988
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Alexander Godunov, De’voreaux White, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush, Tracy Reiner
It’s strange for me to think that, at one time, I had no desire to see this movie. One of the great action films of the 1980s, and perhaps of all time, and I almost skipped seeing it at the theater during its initial release because of my dislike of Bruce Willis…or more specifically, my dislike of his character from the TV series Moonlighting. Thankfully, one week before the film opened in the summer of 1988, I watched the baseball All-Star Game on television, and saw the Die Hard preview trailer during a break in the action…and was hooked instantly. No longer did Willis appear to be a self-important, cheeky wise guy; now, he was a cool wise guy. And the film appeared to be equally as cool.
So I went to see it a few weeks later, and was not disappointed…this was indeed one of the coolest action films I’d ever seen. Willis plays New York policeman John McClane, who travels to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his wife—who left to take a job in Century City—and to see his two kids. He arrives at the towering Nakatomi Corporation Building, where his wife is taking part in a company party on the 30th floor; while he waits for her in an office, a group of German terrorists seize the building and hold the employees hostage. Their demand: 640 million dollars in bearer bonds locked in the company vault. Their problem, only they don’t know it yet: John McClane.
And from there it becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Willis’ cop McClane and the leader of the terrorist group, Hans Gruber, played wonderfully by Alan Rickman in his first feature film role. While the thieves race against time to unlock the vault, Gruber and a handful of others search the unfinished upper floors for McClane, who methodically eliminates them one by one. And this is what made the film so great, and such a blast to watch: the story is established immediately, and from there it’s a thrill-a-minute ride with a pace that never lets up. You can’t help but form an immediate kinship with the tough and likeable McClane, and you root for him every step of the way.
I loved what director John McTiernan did with the camera throughout the film, putting it in just the right place to maximize the impact and intensity of a shot or situation, and filling the frame with exciting visuals, vital information, and seemingly-innocent throwaway moments that had an impact on the story later. I also liked how McClane and Gruber were both smart, and used the skills and experiences from their professions to stay one step ahead of each other at all times. This was another reason why Die Hard excelled: the hero and the villain were equally charismatic. And of course, there were enough explosions, gunfire, and brawls to keep any action-adventure fan happy.
For me, this is the king of high-octane action films, with a dynamic lead in Willis (my apologies for ever doubting you, Bruce!), memorable set pieces both big and small, and realistic dialogue that helped bring the characters to life. And if it weren’t for an eye-rolling misstep at the very end, that grates on me every time I see it, Die Hard would’ve earned a perfect score from me. Trust me, it’s that good, and worthy of repeated viewings…especially if you’ve got nothing better to do on Christmas Eve but hang out at after-work parties each and every year. (9/10)