Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald Vel Johnson, Alexander Godunov, William Arterton
Plot: A cop goes to visit his wife, in order to repair a dying relationship, when she and a building full of Christmas partyers are taken hostage by a dangerous group of terrorists.
What makes Die Hard one of the greatest action movies of all time? Everyone talks about it, as though it is the bar that other films are trying to reach. Yet when the plot is summarised, it seems like a lazy excuse to have a cop shoot some bad guys. There is only one real setting in the entire movie, a single building, and if any other movie tried to replicate it, we would often have to laugh it out of the room.
But Die Hard manages something that many action films have never gotten around (including its own sequels): pacing. This film is paced perfectly, so we are never bored of a single moment, yet nothing is ever cut short. Every line and action seems carefully structured. We get just the right amount of exposition, so we both care for the character and begin to understand how this underdog figure is able to take on so many bad guys. It also uses its simple storyline as a benefit. We are given more time to dive deeper into the characters and it never feels like a forced attempt. Bruce Willis is comfortable enough in his ability to portray the tough guy that he allows himself to show McClane’s emotional side. Al the cop on the ground helping McClane is given his own character arc, rising him above the sidekick figure. It all seems pretty obvious on paper, but remember the decade this film was made. Almost every action hero was a silent tough guy and sidekick cops were often wacky and mostly useless.
While I talk about the direction as though it is a carefully constructed masterpiece, it is important to remember that all of this is done with the idea that the audience is meant to be having endless amounts of fun. This film is so watchable, because it is simply one of the most entertaining films around. John McClane always has the perfect line to really make a moment, especially when he deliriously starts ranting to himself. Nameless henchmen are made memorable, with a couple of cool moments or funny gags. The thing about Die Hard is that the fact it knows it is going to be a fun movie, somehow makes it even greater. I am sure McTiernan never planned for Die Hard to be the classic it is, but I am sure that he had a feeling that it would be a good piece of entertainment. Therefore, it feels more than an accidental hit, like many other great action movies of this status. Everything works and Die Hard deserves every piece of praise it gets.
Of course, I now have to mention the two terrific leads. Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman work so well together and one of my favourite things about Die Hard films in general is the chemistry between hero and villain. McClane and Gruber trade insults via a stolen communicator and their exchanges are so fun. The actors bounce off of each other really well. Bruce Willis is one of the main 80s action star and probably the best actor out of the decade. He has always been more appreciated than Stallone or Schwarzenegger, because Die Hard proves he can at least act. Rickman steals the show though. This was actually the actor’s first film and he owns every moment of it. We can see how passionate he is about acting and the menace he easily conjures up as Hans Gruber is frighteningly good. He will always remain one of the most memorable bad guys in cinematic history.
Final Verdict: Yippie Ki Yay, motherfucker!