Film Review: Die Hard
In 1988, John McTiernan released Die Hard, based on the 1979 novel, Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Hart Bochner, and James Shigeta, the film grossed $140.8 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects, the film did earn a BMI TV/Film Music Award in 1989. Listed as #39 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Thrills list, the film spawned four sequels and the title and story became a descriptor for later action films.
When New York City police officer John McClane flies to Los Angeles to meet his estranged wife in an attempt to reconcile their marriage over Christmas, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber seize control of the building his wife works in during a Christmas Eve party. The party goers are turned into hostages except for John, who manages to escape.
Die Hard succeeded as an action film with having an incredibly detailed and well thought out scheme which might possibly one of the greatest villainous plans that has ever been in an action film. He pretends to be terrorists to invade the Nakatomi building and take hostages while making Mr. Takagi divulge the access codes to the vault with the bearer bonds. And when he doesn’t cooperate, he moves to Plan B and breaks into it with a mix of drilling, technological savviness and manipulation of the authorities, who he knew would arrive and follow their standard operating procedures (like the FBI responding to the situation as if it were a terrorist attack rather than a simple robbery). Further said procedures even made his plan possible. And when all was said and done, he’d blow up the roof that had the hostages on it so it could look like he was dead and escape in a separate truck that arrived originally. In all honesty, the only reason the plan failed was because Gruber didn’t count on a single man arriving to reconnect with his wife and interfering with the plot.
But there are other times that point to Gruber being competent as a villain, such as calling two of his men to his location when he was about to shoot McClane, which paid off when he found his gun was empty. It even showed in the beginning when one of his men believes they missed a security guard, Gruber understands that the man who killed Tony is much more dangerous than a security guard.
And with the genre-savvy and competent villains comes a film that is an interesting deconstruction of the 1980s action genre, complete with a dip into reality. McClane isn’t an invincible hero, but is instead an average unassuming police officer who just wants to visit his wife and ultimately wants to avoid confrontations at first, thus explaining how he ran away after retrieving his gun instead of running in headlong. Because when the trouble starts, he spends a lot of the movie calling for help and then spends the first 20 minutes after the arrival of the police not doing anything. This makes sense because it makes McClane much more human and a normal person would realize that one man going up against that many people is suicide. The only reason he starts getting involved and taking them on is because he realizes the need to protect himself coupled with the fact that the police are incompetent. And it’s obvious that he’s not all entirely sure about what he’s doing, seen when he’s frequently asking himself just what he’s doing.
And even when all is said and done, McClane stays human, subverting the usual action hero trope of staying an unflinching pillar of steel. Him spending the night fighting the terrorists without any sort of armor, shoes included, left him an emotional wreck.
And that may be why John McClane is such a well-loved character and what made Die Hard such a well-received film. In the midst of so many action films that eventually created a hero that was nothing like the audience watching, which eventually created a disconnect, John McClane wasn’t originally a hero, nor did he set out to be one, nor did he ever consider himself one. He just accidentally became one and audiences most likely saw themselves in him.
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