I went to watch Die Hard a few weeks ago and found myself in a non-action mood. I flipped through my DVD book trying to find a movie to something to keep me occupied. What I ultimately chose was another Bruce WIllis flick, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, a superhero origin story that has Willis play a man coming to terms that he may indeed be different than the rest of the world. There’s a sequence in the film when Willis’ David Dunn is talking to Mrs. Price, mother of whacky comic collector and ‘breakable’ Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) when this bit of dialogue comes out…
Mrs. Price:This is one of Johann Davis’s earliest drawings. See the villain’s eyes? They’re larger than the other characters’. They – insinuate a slightly skewed perspective on how they see the world. Just off normal.
David Dunn: Doesn’t look scary.
Mrs. Price: Mm-hmm. That’s what I said to my son. But he says there’s always two kinds; there’s the soldier villain – who fights the hero with his hands; and then there’s the real threat – the brilliant and evil archenemy – who fights the hero with his mind.
Obviously that had a big effect on the rest of Unbreakable, but it also really put words to a theory I’ve always loved. I love that The Joker is no match physically for Batman, but he’s so crazy that he can pull of these plots and be even more effective than a Killer Croc or Clayface or any other brute in the Rogue’s Gallery. The same theory applies in so many things I love, pro wrestling, video games, TV shows, and I just so happened to luck myself into Die Hard with this theory ripe in my head.
1988’s Die Hard is one of, if not the, most celebrated movie in the action genre. It’s the main reason I made this blog, as prior to a few days ago, I’d never seen it front to back! The story is relatively simple, New York Cop John McClane (Willis) is out in Los Angeles for Christmas visiting his career driven wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Upon arriving at her office building he settles in only to have the place taken over by terrorists lead by the legendary villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McClane has to take down the terrorists and save the occupants of the building along with help from Carl Winslow eh-hem Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). Me summarizing this is kind of foolish, as I’m close to certain I’m the only person in the world above the age of 15 that hasn’t seen this movie. So yeah, Christmas spirit meets terrorism meets bad ass cop. An equation that can’t be messed with. And if you want to add a pretentious feather to your cap, it just so happens to be based on a book, Roderick Throp’s Nothing Lasts Forever! I wonder if the book is better than the movie.
The first good thing about this movie is that Willis is so good as McClane. He’s just natural. I’ve never been the biggest Willis fan, so I was rather surprised at just how pleasant he made the role. McClane is an everyman put in a ridiculous situation and he reacts pretty crazily. It’s fun. Hans Gruber is also amazing, a role that Alan Rickman plays to perfection, easily the best role I’ve seen him in (sorry Harry Potter fans). He’s the perfect mix of brilliant, evil, and collected. He’s the “brilliant and evil archenemy” preached about in Unbreakable. And the two work off of each other so well. Average Joe Cop meets Evil Genius Terrorist. Polar opposites who just happen to cross paths on this Christmas Eve. The banter they have is great, and it spawned one of the greatest lines in film history!
While McClane and Gruber’s main plot is really awesome, what truly puts this movie in the upper echelon of action flicks is everything going on around them. There are so many secondary characters that just flesh out the entire story. There’s the LAPD officer Al Powell, frantically trying to explain to other officers that McClane is worth trusting, based solely off a hunch. Also we get hilariously naive Argyle the limo driver, blissfully playing with a teddy bear and blasting Run-D.M.C. in the garage of the complex, Harry Ellis, the smarmy executive who wants Holly and truly believes he can convince the terrorists to leave the building, and of course Holly herself, who plays the perfect half-bitch half-loving wife. And on the flip-side we have Gruber’s small army of terrorists are well played too, especially the menacing Karl played by the late Alexander Gudonov. What’s great about Karl is his motivation. How many movies have goons with actual motivation aside from following orders? Not many. So Karl avenging his brother’s death (McClane killed him first!) and getting fed up with McClane’s successful attempts to avoid death really give him an important role. Also, Gruber’s hacker Theo adds some American flavor to the mostly European terror attack. He’s the Argyle of the bad guys, not just in color, but in tone.
You’re probably saying “Enough about how good the story is bro! How about the people killing each other and things blowing up?! That’s why we’re here!” and for that I say the action is good. One thing I like is the consistency of it. When McClane gets to the building he takes his shoes off to relax, and as the attack begins he doesn’t have the chance to put on shoes, so there are several instances where his feet are put at risk. Stupid? On the surface yeah, but it’s a small detail that with repetition actually feels important. How many action movies can make a detail as small as footwear a point in a fight? Anytime Karl is involved in a fight it’s almost guaranteed to be brutal, and he provides some of the most bad ass moments of the movie. Knowing that there are three other Die Hard movies, I was still at the edge of my seat when Karl was battling McClane. And the final sequence where Gruber and McClane actually go at it is amazing and one of the most badass deaths of all time. Guess who dies?!
So yeah…Die Hard is iconic for a reason. It’s a perfectly wrapped Christmas package. Gruber is one of the most hateable villains in the history of film and McClane is one of the most relatable heroes. It just works. Simple as that.
What’s next, fine readers? Well let’s cross the pond with a nice 2000’s reboot that’s about gambling and drinking! Let us head to Casino Royale!
ADDED TO THE RANKINGS: Bruce Willis, Alexander Gudonov
(All images and video are copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)