Now I Have a Kick-Ass Action Film... HO-HO-HO: A look back at Die Hard
"It's Christmas, Theo. It's the time of miracles. So be of good cheer... and call me when you hit the last lock." --Hans Gruber
No, this merry quote isn't from A Christmas Story, or It's a Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Carol. Regardless of the merits of those, this quote comes from a master criminal and thief in one of the best Christmas film ever: Die Hard. The film follows New York detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he finds himself trapped in the middle of a hostage situation when he goes to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) for the holidays. That is, in case you've been living under a rock for the last 25 years.
And although that plot summary might not sound very "Christmassy", the holiday theme is present through most of the film. From the setting on Christmas Eve, and the story of a man visiting his estranged family for the holidays, to clever lines of dialogue (like the opening quote or the popular "Now I have a machine gun... HO-HO-HO") sprinkled with Christmas motifs, and even the music and score highlighted by traditional Christmas tunes and even some creepy-sounding sleigh bells. Even Empire magazine voted the film as "The Greatest Christmas Film of All Time" in 2011.
Not only is Die Hard the ultimate Christmas film, but it is also one of the most iconic and influential action films. It would serve as a template for hundreds of other action films that followed (like Speed, Under Siege, and others), to the point that most of those are referred to as "Die Hard on a [Bus/Boat/etc.]". Die Hard achieves this impact with a tight, intense direction; a sharp, simple script; a great portrayal of an unlikely hero; and a wickedly great villain.
Just like the film was influential to upcoming action films, Alan Rickman's performance as terrorist/thief Hans Gruber sets the foundation for hundreds of villains that followed. IMO, this is one of the best portrayals of an antagonist on film. He plays the slick Gruber with such a cool and suave demeanor, that you can't help but smile at him. Rickman's Gruber was even listed on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list. He is backed up by a team of thugs led by the ruthless Karl (Alexander Godunov).
On the other hand, Willis set a new trend for the hero as well, by portraying McClane as the flawed, unlikely hero who just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless of how the character, and Willis himself, are perceived now, after four sequels, McClane didn't look or behaved like the "superhero" cop that a lot of 80's films had us accustomed to. His reaction to most of the things that happen is a believable "WTF!?". He acts and looks like a skilled-yet-desperate man who is driven by his wife's safety, and actually making things up on the fly.
Pair him with an LAPD desk sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) who happens to respond to McClane's call for help, and a trio of d**kheads in Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason), and Agents Johnson and Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush) from the FBI, and you will know why McClane is forced to take matters in his own hands against Gruber and Co. The somewhat cartoonish portrayal of law enforcement officers as "dumb" and "incompetent", Powell aside, might take away some of the believability of the film, but I still think they serve their purpose without taking the focus of McClane.
July 15, 1988
Steven E. de Souza, Jeb Stuart
Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson
If forced to come up with things to nitpick in the film, they would be practically null. But just for the sake of argument, here are some itty-bitty issues. First, as the film reaches its climax, the action sequences become more convoluted and less believable. Second, despite an earnest performance by Reginald VelJohnson, he isn't the best of actors, and his performance, although not awful, is spotty. Finally, the last surprise revelation of a certain character being alive in the end feels forced and tacked on just to give Powell his moment of redemption, which isn't really necessary.
But like I said, those are just extremely minor nitpicks. Die Hard was, and still is, a kick-ass action film. I remember seeing it for the first time in VHS, back in 1988 or 1989, and it instantly became one of my favorite films. One of those that I just can't get tired of watching, no matter how many times I did watch it. And watch it I have; probably more than a 100 times in the 25 years that have passed. But what is one more time, right? And that is how I spent the night of Christmas Eve. Sitting in my couch, with my wife, watching Die Hard. Could it get any better? So if you're in for a Christmas treat, take out your Die Hard DVD or Blu-Ray, some mulled wine, a nice aged Brie, and a roaring fireplace. You know what I'm sayin'? Grade: A+
Die Hard Trailer
Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?
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