Saturday, February 25, 2012

Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis fights some vaguely European thugs and things explode.

There are times that I long for the 1980's and those times are usually while I'm watching 80's action movies. I haven't been able to put my finger on why the actions films from this decade are as good as they are, but the truth is that, more than 20 years later, filmmakers are still trying to recapture this success. Despite all the advances in movie making technology no one has been able to recreate Die Hard. It's not that Die Hard is the best movie ever made, far from it, but it is a great way to spend a couple hours.

Simply put, Die Hard is the story of an average guy trying to make things right with his estranged wife. There's also a bunch of German terrorists holding her hostage at the office Christmas party. It's up to Officer John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, to handle the hostage situation in the most American fashion possible; by single-handedly taking out every stinking Kraut he sees. The terrorists, led by the diabolical Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman in his feature film debut, are really just out for some quick cash and it's up to McClane to save the day. Needless to say, things explode and strikingly tall, blonde Germans get pumped full of lead. Directed by John McTiernan, who also gave us the joyful 1980's action experience that is Predator, Die Hard was a runaway success spawning multiple sequels and it was nominated for four Academy Awards. The movie continues to endure as a pop-culture sensation which is probably the reason it landed itself on the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list.

It's hard to argue with Die Hard from a basic filmmaking standpoint. The writing is decent enough for an action film. Combined with Willis' solid performance, the writing keeps the film from being too dark. The lighter moments, mostly the ones where Willis makes wise-cracks to himself, are where Die Hard really shines and the biggest reason why the film is still a crowd-pleaser. In addition to the solid balance of humor and violence, the writing is perfectly efficient. There is very little superfluous dialogue and some of the character back-story actually pays off in really meaningful ways. There are quite a few moments of lunacy where suspension of disbelief is essential to the continued enjoyment of the movie, but that's something that most action movie fans are accustomed to. In fact, these ludicrous moments are some of the movie's best sequences. Really, the only complaint I have with the film is the underdevelopment of it's villains. Hans Gruber is played fantastically by Rickman, but his motivations are muddled and he lacks any real depth other than being wonderfully maniacal. He's a really excellent Disney villain in movie that probably demands a little more depth from it's antagonist.

Die Hard doesn't really belong on a list of the greatest movies ever made, but it does certainly belong on the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list. It's one of the best 80's action movies, it continues to permeate pop culture and it influenced most every action movie made after it's release. Ultimately, Die Hard is a well crafted and exciting way to spend two hours even if it's a simple experience at it's core. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.


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