moviebuff801: Time Capsule Reviews: Die Hard (1988)

Posted: December 21, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Note: A bit of strong language at the tail-end of this review.

Release Date: July 15th, 1988

Running Time: 2 hours and 12 minutes

Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Jeb Stuart

Directed by: John McTiernan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson

Deck the halls with boughs of bad guys, fa la la la la, la la la la!

Until about two or three years ago, I had no idea how many people considered Die Hard a traditional Christmas watch.  Then again, I have to consider how much of that percentage is made up of guys.  Quite honestly, despite me being of that very gender and it being one of my Top Five Favorite Action Films ever, I never really feel the need to revisit it around this time every year.  That’s not to knock anyone who does, mind you, but if you prefer your holiday season to be set to the tune of a few “Jingle Guns,” then more power to you.  I certainly won’t object to some holiday cheer being spread by way of the killing of a few criminals while Bruce Willis makes a few quips.

Taking place on Christmas Eve, Die Hard begins with NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) flying into Los Angeles to visit his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), with whom his marriage has been going through tough times.  As it turns out, John’s arrival to the company Christmas Party is conveniently timed, because it coincides with a hostile takeover of the high-rise building location by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his group of heavily-armed associates, who are there in search of something contained in a high-tech vault.  Of course, John is the only one in the building with the skillset to fight back, but doing so will not be without its problems.  Pretty soon, John manages to establish contact with a police officer on the outside (Reginald VelJohnson), and this Christmas Eve night quickly turns into a cacophony of flying bullets and dead bodies.  Ho ho ho.

Let’s not waste any time here and get down to the heart and soul of why Die Hard works so well.  Most of the time, an action movie is only as good as its hero and/or villain, and this movie has great examples of both.  What makes John McClane such a compelling hero is the fact that he’s an everyman, rather than a superman.  He certainly isn’t invulnerable to bullets, as we get to see quite a few times throughout the film, and that quality lends to the credibility (to an extent) of the movie itself.  McClane is a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, making the most of what he has, which is nothing more than a 9mm Beretta and his training as a cop, and he actually takes the time to formulate a plan of attack rather than charge in with his gun blazing.  By the time McClane really starts to retaliate against Gruber and his men, we get a clear sense of the character’s intellect and resourcefulness.  Also, Bruce Willis brings an immense amount of charm to the character, who’s never in short supply of sly remarks.  In fact, most of this movie is situated on his shoulders, and what a relief it is that Willis is able to carry it so effortlessly.

The strength of Willis’s performance especially becomes obvious in the scenes where McClane engages Rickman’s Hans Gruber in some fast-paced and witty verbal, and mental, chess matches.  I think there’s an unspoken understanding by now in Hollywood where, if you cast Alan Rickman in an antagonistic role of some sort in your film, then that right there earns you a few brownie points.  That must have started with this film.  Rickman just has this slimy charm about him, especially in how he relishes a lot of his line readings, that just seems to define the villain archetype so well.  Whenever he’s in a scene, the sense that this guy is the smartest one in the room becomes readily apparent, and the fact that he can shoot a guy point-blank in the head while maintaining the air of someone shaking hands is another trait that reinforces why Hans Gruber is not just a memorable villain, but also why Alan Rickman is such a great actor.

But, of course, what good are interesting characters without a good story?  Well, Die Hard has that, too.  This movie is rightfully regarded as a great action film, yet it manages to succeed without a breakneck pace in its storytelling.  The script by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart is able to build excitement and tension by holding back on some of the more big set-pieces and shootouts, and instead allows the panic, fear and uncertainty of the whole situation to really set in.  As I mentioned before, McClane is wise enough to know that he can’t just take on criminals armed with machine guns willy-nilly.  Something this movie does that is a smart move is that it first shows him doing everything he can to get help while avoiding violence, which seems like a natural cop reaction.  It’s only when the situation escalates further that the violence starts to do the same, and it all feels like a rewarding payoff.

Director John McTiernan films all of the post-takeover mayhem with an almost claustrophobic sensibility, especially the moments where we see McClane navigating spaces like air ducts and elevator shafts in order to stay one step ahead.  The tight sense of tension in the film can also be owed to McTiernan, as he’s able to create a credible level of suspense when the plot kicks in at the end of the First Act.

I don’t think there’s a guy alive who hasn’t seen Die Hard, but if there is and you’re one of the people reading this review, then what are you waiting for?  Not only is it a great action movie, it’s just a well-made film all around.  And while I may not consider it a Christmas tradition, I can still see why some would.  Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile movie at whatever time of year you watch it.

I think there’s no other proper way to end this review than by channeling my inner John McClane and saying: “Merry Christmas, motherfuckers!”


  1. r361n4 says:

    Love this one! Just saw it for the first time two weeks ago, glad to see another review of it as christmas is getting closer :)

  2. Spikor says:

    I love this movie.

    Have you ever watched it when a TV network airs it? It’s still solid, but it comes from a time when they tried to dub in other words to replace the bad ones.

    “Yippie Kai Yay, Mr. Falcon.”

    • moviebuff801 says:

      Yeah, a lot of those line dubs are so out-of-place that they would’ve done better to just cut out the sound during the profanity.

      • Spikor says:

        I think it seems like that’s why the made the switch. It’s good, and bad at the same time. Some of those old dubs were frustratingly hilarious, like Mr. Falcon.

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