Die Hard (1988) Dec 23, 2007 19:36:52 GMT
Post by ronnierocketago on Dec 23, 2007 19:36:52 GMT
DIE HARD (1988) - ***** - Masterpiece
Forget IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Screw A CHRISTMAS CAROL, all 1,532 versions of it. No more A CHRISTMAS STORY marathons, please!
Now this is a holiday classic.
DIE HARD either started or propelled cliches of action cinema that we've had for over two decades. The regular-joe hero, the wife/lover split from him until the finale when they reunite, the smarter (and very arrogant) villain, the incompetent police bureaucrats, the token minority characters, the hostage/terrorist demands, you name it.
Yet the difference from DIE HARD and every other movie that's either copied its blueprints correctly (UNDER SIEGE) or not (MASTERMINDS) is that John McTiernan's masterpiece did it all perfectly the first time around.
We must start with Bruce Willis, who was booked only after every other movie star turned down DIE HARD, including Richard Gere. It was a risky and very desperate move to cast a TV comic star as your action hero, yet Willis succeeds in ways beyond expectations. Unlike the steroid-musiclemen from the 80's like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Willis early on in the picture never gives off the natural look or behavior of a badass.
We accept Willis as a layman NYPD cop, that what will proceed on Christmas Eve at the Nakatomi Building is way beyond anything he's ever encountered or even dreamed of. Willis instills such a nice breath of fresh air for a decade full of unstoppable action figures, that the smallest dilemmas that Arnold or Sly would have easily walked over, become giant obstacles for John McClane.
Every moment of great peril, from desperately scaling the air ducts or jumping for dear life off an exploding rooftop, is great tension because we believe in the character, and in this slightly fantastical reality. He's filthy and nasty by the finale, and we feel his pain.
Certainly after Willis walks across the floor of broken glass and has to pluck the shards bit by bit, I always grimace at that sight of Willis dragging himself to the bathroom, leaving behind a juicy blood streak of a trail.
Though a great hero can not exist without a great villain. Alan Rickman is the quintessential know-it-all adversary who has planned for every spot, to counter-act every act conducted by the police & FBI, and to compensate for every possible deviation from his masterminded plan.
He's not smart for the sake of it, for he's actually cooked up a great operation, but a certain poison pill just keeps getting in his way. It's such a damn good plan, we sorta cheer when the FBI inadvertedly help the terrorists score their payday.
Even while verbally dueling (unsuccessfully) with Willis on the CB radio, Rickman sincerely believes he will prevail until a key moment when the Rolex watch slips off, and we witness the look on his face when he finally realizes that he won't.
For a movie that famously promised to "blow you through the back wall of the theatre!," and recently named the Greatest Action Movie of All-Time by Entertainment Weekly, the "action" itself doesn't occur until 25 minutes well into the picture.
McTiernan and DP Jan DeBont are able to craft a compelling prelude explaining the hero's situation, how the baddies enter and take over the skyscraper, and using a macguffin of an opening gag to explain why Willis begins his guerilla warfare without any shoes.
The extremely tight action and suspense delivered afterwards is so great because of smarts and talent from both men. The fact that DeBont himself later helmed great action cinema in SPEED shouldn't have surprised anyone.
Yet the genius that lies beneath DIE HARD that nobody ever talks about is that of Willis' characterization of McClane. As carried over in the only true sequel in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, also directed by McTiernan, the hero is a funny guy at times, but he's also an incredible asshole.
He drove his wife away because her career ascension violated his comfort zones. In their brief argument before the plot kicks in, such great heat is from the fact that she isn't the wife as he demands or expects. In both pictures, Willis' McClane is a ass-kicking hero, but with very visible faults and prejudices on the surface.
You probably couldn't stand him in real life, but when there are terrorists, who you gonna call?
DIE HARD is indeed a great movie, and a true masterpiece of action cinema.