Cue the inevitable gasps of disbelief, no I had not seen this yet. I have oddly enough seen Die Hard 2 and Live Free or Die Hard on cable and in the theater when I was younger, but for some reason I just never got around to seeing the original. Like The Big Lebowski, I knew that it was constantly listed on peoples’ favorite movies of all time lists, especially when it comes to the action category. That plus the nearing holiday season was more than enough to get me to take a break from studying for these accursed finals of mine and finally expose myself to Michael Scott’s favorite movie of all time. I am happy to say that like The Big Lebowski, Die Hard absolutely hit home for me. Not only is it probably my new favorite action movie of all time; it is one of the most significant films of the past 30 years in terms of how it shaped the genre.
New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) happens to be at the wrong/right place at the wrong/right time when a group of terrorists rudely interrupt a corporate Christmas party his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) had invited him to in a Los Angeles Skyscraper. Lead by the “Exceptional Thief”, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the miniature army of Bavarian Baddies make life quite difficult for McClane as he does his best to evade capture, keep his fellow officers out of harms way and save his wife.
I can honestly say that I’ve never liked Bruce Willis more in a role than I did in Die Hard. John McClane is the quintessential action hero, complete with a steady barrage of one liners and a distinct aptitude for the art of kicking ass. The thing is, many films and actors have tried to recreate the appeal of John McClane by slightly tweaking the Die Hard formula and calling it something new (a.k.a. every film Jason Statham has ever starred in), but none of those films do it as well as Willis did. One part of this formula that almost always derails even the most capable of these copy cats is the way that Willis manages to pull off acknowledging the cheesiness of most of his lines while still making them badass. Usually, your Stathams and your Segals either fault on the side of acknowledging these things to the point of self-parody, or conversely trying to make everything serious without the acting or writing to back that seriousness up. Die Hard find that rare middle ground that only the best of genre are able to achieve.
Of course, every Batman needs his Joker, every Rocky needs his Apollo Creed, and every McClane needs his Gruber. Alan Rickman assures that the latter need not be worried about with one of the best movie villain performances of all time. Sure, as a German I wish that German accents didn’t sound so sinister, but there’s no denying that it works exceedingly well here. Rickman hits his own perfect chord with Gruber between dastardly over-the-top stage villain and sobering-ly evil bastard, and I personally found his exchanges with McClane over CB radio and in person to be some of the most captivating parts of the film.
Just a few notes here. Aside from Gruber, McClane and arguable Holly at times, every single other character is some sort of tongue-in-cheek cliche. We have our dependable, two-days-till-retirement cop on the ground (Reginald ValJohnson), a moronically ass-ish police lieutenant (Paul Gleason), a begging-for-a-bullet office douchebag (Harry Bochner), two incredibly douchey FBI agents (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush) and more. There were plenty of times when these characters were just a little too annoying for their own good (especially the police lieutenant) but even those characters were given at least a few great lines a piece (i.e. “I guess we’re going to need some new FBI guys”)
The Verdict: 9.0/10 Incredible
+ The ultimate action hero in Willis’ McClane
+ An excellent villain in Rickman’s Gruber
+ Often surprisingly funny in self-aware ways
+ A refreshingly engaging pace that never once made me feel at all bored