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Should I Watch..? Live Free Or Die Hard
What's the big deal?
Live Free Or Die Hard (also known as Die Hard 4.0 outside the US) is an action thriller film released in 2007 and is the fourth instalment in the Die Hard (1) series. It was the first Die Hard film in twelve years after the series stalled following 1995's Die Hard With A Vengeance (2) and it sees Bruce Willis return as New York cop John McClane, this time on the trail of domestic cyber-terrorists. The film production was delayed following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and is based on the article A Farewell To Arms by John Carlin. The film became the highest grossing movie in the series to date with global box office receipts in excess of $380 million and received positive reviews upon release. Unlike the previous films though, this film was rated PG-13 and the levels of swearing and violence are toned down significantly.
What's it about?
Responding to a computer outage at their Cyber Security Division, the FBI attempt to locate several top computer hackers - only to find them all dead. The FBI ask John McClane to bring notorious hacker Matt Farrell into protective custody but as McClane tries to do so, Farrell is targeted by assassins. Escaping to Washington DC, Farrell admits to McClane that he was paid a large amount by cyber terrorist Mai Linh to create a program that could bypass Government security systems.
Not long after, Mai's lover Thomas Gabriel initiates a cyber attack on stock markets and transportation systems whilst delivering a cryptic threat to the US authorities. Farrell believes that Gabriel intends to slowly take over every Government system in order to create chaos. With the authorities unable to respond, McClane and Farrell must figure out how to find and stop Gabriel who soon discovers that McClane is on his trail and makes his own move...
Matthew "Matt" Farrell
FBI Deputy Director Miguel Bowman
Frederick "Warlock" Kaludis
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Lucy Gennaro McClane
Mark Bomback *
Release Date (UK)
4th July, 2007
What's to like?
It's safe to say that the Die Hard series had grown tired so the first thing to do was to update the things and make it more modern. This means ditching its old-school charm, introducing more techno-thriller elements and reintroducing McClane's now grown-up daughter Lucy. And by and large, these all work. The action is ramped up and given the advantages CG provide, the filmmakers really go to town on the action. Stunt-work is especially good although they sometimes indulge in too much CG and it looks ridiculous.
The story is arguably the best thing about it, giving the film a new threat that you can imagine actually happening. It's no stretch to picture a nation being brought to its knees by anonymous hackers somewhere - just ask Sony during the infamous debacle and international controversy surrounding The Interview (3). And for once, the baddie is not some sophisticated criminal genius to clash with McClane's style and dress-code. Olyphant's villain has a specific agenda and hides behind a wall of computer monitors, unseen. Smith's input provides a bit more comic relief, seeing as Willis has traded in his sense of humour for immortality while Winstead's inclusion replaces Bonnie Bedelia as the damsel in distress. Shame it highlights how old Willis has got in the role...
- Willis' stunt double was seriously injured after falling 25 feet onto a pavement, breaking bones in his face and fracturing both wrists. Willis not only visited him in hospital but also paid for the stuntman's parents to stay in various LA hotels whilst he was in hospital.
- The phrase "live free or die" is taken from a toast written by revolutionary General John Stark - "Live free or die - death is not the worst of evils."
- In France, the movie's title was bafflingly translated as Die Hard 4.0 - Return To Hell.
What's not to like?
McClane's evolution from troubled cop to invincible sharpshooter is complete, robbing the movie of any suspense at all because you never feel for a moment that he's in peril. The over-reliance on CG also gives the movie an almost cartoony feel at times - take the scene in the tunnel where a car flying out of control is deflected by two other cars while Willis uses a patrol car to take out a helicopter in the biggest fluked take-down in cinema history. The action is so ridiculous that I half expected Willis to point his fingers at the baddies and shout "Bang!" in order to kill them.
Of course, my biggest gripe is the same thing that killed The Expendables 3 (4) or Taken 3 (5) - the sad reduction of a previously adult-rated franchise to a PG rating in order to secure a bigger box office draw. Granted, I can't imagine any parent watching Die Hard and thinking that they need to show this to their kids but hey, that's Hollywood for you. The movie makers sold the film's gritty, adult soul for the sake of box office receipts but the film is so watered down that it made me weep. Even McClane's trademark line (which I won't repeat here - you know the one!) is effected by this depressing sanitisation and that was the point of no return as far as I was concerned. All the elements that made the original great are long forgotten - this is instead a mildly efficient techno-thriller but with stupid and ridiculous action sequences tacked on.
Should I watch it?
If you're new to the series then this will probably have you gripping your seat in a sweaty, trembling mess - it delivers the goods if action is what you want. For people like me who fondly remember the earlier trilogy then this will annoy and depress you. It's a long way from Die Hard to this and what worries me is that it will prove difficult for the series to recover that old-school charm after this soulless effort.
Great For: younger viewers, computer nerds, forgiving action fans
Not So Great For: fans of the earlier films, technophobes and luddites, Norton
What else should I watch?
For the genuine article, watch both Die Hard and Die Hard With A Vengeance, the third film in the series. The second film Die Hard 2 (6) is no classic but personally, I prefer it to all this computer-game nonsense pretending to be action. No matter how pretty the explosions are, I know that they aren't there so why should I invest in this half-arsed rehash or the equally CG-swamped A Good Day To Die Hard (7)?
Mind you, not all modern action films rely on CG as much. Taken (8) is a great example of old-school action at its finest, featuring a grizzled Liam Neeson taking on all comers that doesn't shy away from an adult rating. And there's always the Jason Bourne films - The Bourne Identity (9) is a terrific blend of intrigue, violence, danger and conspiracy but retains the choppy editing and choreographed fight scenes you used to love, instead of Willis walking away from a downed fighter jet with nary a scratch.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox