Directed by: John McTiernan
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman
Released: 20 July 1988
No spoilers to be found here!
Even though I am quite young and never got to see Die Hard when it was first released in theatres, I still get a bit of a nostalgic feeling towards this action classic. My dad is a big lover of action and showed me a lot of these movies when I was smaller. Die Hard is a movie that I’ve always held in high regard because of this, and also made me very nervous when we decided to rewatch the movie during the Christmas. Well, here is my thoughts about the first Die Hard.
Bruce Willis plays the New York cop John McClane, who is on his way to Los Angeles to celebrate Christmas with his wife and kids. He enters the Nakatomi Plaza, where his wife Holly works, to meet her. During his visit the building gets invaded by a group of armed thugs lead by Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. It is now up to John to stop the bad guys and save the day.
It sounds like a pretty simple concept, and it is, but works perfectly for this kind of movie. Right from the start John McClane is set up as the likable underdog and after a bit Hans Gruber shows up and quickly becomes an menacing and effective villain. There are a lot of hostages, including John’s wife Holly, which makes his motivations clear, and makes you route for him. Because the movie all takes place during one evening, the sense of pacing and urgency makes the it an absolute thrill ride. He is alone in a building without access to help, which forces McClane to handle everything by himself. Since he is so likable, this amplifies the effect to a maximum level, you will almost cheer out loud in your couch.. This is a great setup for an action movie, and it really pays off. The movie so elegantly establishes the characters and their motivations without wasting any time, you get invested amazingly fast. This movie both popularized the hero-trapped-in-confined-area idea as well as mostly perfected it. A lot of movies would later copy this concept (even the Die Hard-sequels), but I can’t think of any movie that comes close to executing it as good as the original Die Hard did.
John McClane may at first seem like the typical action movie underdog, but there is more to him. He is a cop from New York, living alone since his wife Holly moved to Los Angeles with the kids. This makes him a somewhat tragic character, but he always seems to find the comedic side of the situation. No matter how bloodied he becomes, he just laughs. It can’t get worse than this, right? Might as well see the fun it. But he is also very nice person, who deeply cares for the people he loves. So yes, John McClane isn’t the most innovative character ever written and has a lot of the clichéd action hero-tropes. But Bruce Willis brings a lot to the character, adding enough unique traits that it makes him stand out, which is why John McClane went on to become one of the most likable action movie heroes ever made.
Another reason to why Die Hard became such a classic is the villain Hans Gruber, portrayed by Alan Rickman. He may at first seem like a typical bad-guy, with his evil plan and evil men. But as the movie tugs along, you start to see the glimpses of the real character. He knows that what he is doing is a bad thing, and that enables him to look at the situation from a satirical perspective. He understands the situation so well, he might as well make fun of it, much like John. Even when fighting each other, they can always laugh together at something they find comedic. This creates a great chemistry between the hero and villain, something that a lot of movies are unable to do (including Die Hard-sequels). Even though Hans was a well-written character, Alan Rickman’s acting should not go unmentioned. He plays this grim character with exactly the right amount of sarcasm but always remaining in total control. This is a hard thing to get right, but he nailed it. In the end, this is simply one of the greatest action movie villains ever created, and the chemistry between him and John is what dreams are made of.
Die Hard also has a couple of great supporting characters with varying screen time. My favourite is Al Powell, the cop outside the building who keeps in radio contact with John during the attack. You can tell his purpose is to break up the action by filling in John and the audience for necessary exposition, but he himself is a great character who becomes better and better as the movie progresses. Johns wife Holly, while having limited screen time, is really fun to watch because of her rebellious demeanor towards the attackers, and has great chemistry with McClane. One of the reasons this movie is considered a classic by so many people must be because how likable all the characters are and how great all their chemistry towards each other. The only small nitpick I can think of with regards to the characters that some of Gruber’s men could be considered a bit like stereotypic evil thugs, but that’s really grasping.
This is however, an action movie, and with that you expect action. There are a few well-made action set pieces, especially a famous scene on a roof, that are really intense. They put McClane in a bad situations, and then when you least expect it, make them even worse. They are, albeit a bit short, a real thrill ride. Combined with McClane’s witty comments they provide some of the highlights of the movie. It’s a tried and true idea, but executed well.
The movie isn’t flawless however, it has a couple of ugly spots. I never thought the action itself was particularly interesting, except for the mentioned set pieces. It’s mostly just your standard run-and-gun with lots of bullets and people getting hurt. I know that this movie was made in the eighties and had more restrictions than today, but just look at Raiders of the Lost Ark. It came out in 1981, 7 years before Die Hard, and blows Die Hard out of the water in almost every single action scene. I really think more could have been with the action in this movie, but as it stands now, the action-average is good, with a few standout moments, but not much more.
Action movies usually aren’t the kind of movie where you expect good character development, mostly you want good characters and action. Whilst Die Hard has both good characters and action, it also contains a little development for the main stars. The problem with it is that it comes kind of out of nowhere during the last few moments in the film, in order to make the ending seem happier.
It isn’t supported by the earlier parts of the movie and ends up feeling a bit forced.
Die Hard is considered one of the all-time action greats, and it’s easy to see why. It’s concept was something new, the characters were very likable with great chemistry and it was overall extremely well executed. I consider Die Hard a great action movie with great characters and a fantastic concept which became a classic within the genre. My problems with it however, is that the action very rarely impressed me, which is a really bad thing to say about an action movie. I also thought that some of the characters developed in a way that didn’t make a lot of sense. In the end Die Hard is a great movie, definitely if you are into action.