Directed by John McTiernan
Starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman
Christmas film review by Sam Bowles
Where to begin? It’s got Bruce Willis. In a vest. With a gun. Shooting people. Smoking cigarettes. And cracking seriously wise.
The set-up: Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his gang of heavily armed Euro terrorists take over a high-class high-rise LA office tower on Christmas Eve, grabbing over 30 hostages in the process, and wait for the arrival of the police to begin negotiations. John McClane (Willis), a New York cop who has come to visit his estranged wife for Christmas, manages to give the bad guys the slip, and - hiding out in lift shafts, crawling through ventilator systems and firing machine guns under desks - stages a one-man fight-back and rescue mission.
Die Hard is an action movie, and one in which a surprising amount of time passes (half an hour or so) before there’s any action. Yet we never yawn at our watches wondering when the first shot will be fired. This is key to the film’s repeatability (I’ve personally seen it a few dozen times); Die Hard would be great even if you removed all the action. The dialogue zings, every actor seems perfectly cast, the pacing and photography are immaculate. The level of filmmaking is simply unparalleled in American action cinema.
80s Hollywood was full of films anchored around the trope of the ‘fish-out-of-water’ - a character is thrust into a strange new world or environment and amusing shenanigans ensue: Back to the Future, Coming to America, Biggles: Adventures in Time etc. Die Hard is a rare example of the trend in that it’s not a comedy (although it’s funnier than most comedies). McClane is both a New York fish in Los Angeles water, and a blue-collar hero saving the day for a group of patronizing yuppies. Not that this means Hollywood is being left wing; the film’s just going for audience identification. Studios execs probably feel they have more in common with Gruber and his cohorts than with McClane. These terrorists aren’t political; they’re aggressive capitalists.
The thing about Die Hard is it’s just so damn entertaining. The original screenplay took place over several days. McTiernan chose to condense the story to a single night, in the manner of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespearean comedy was an influence on a big budget 80s action movie?! Yes, it’s true. And crucial to the film’s appeal. McTiernan wanted to inject a sense of fun, joy even. Hence, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on the soundtrack, and the use of ‘Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!’ over the end credits, which tells us not to take this too seriously. It’s Christmas after all.
Come back tomorrow for your next Christmas film review.