Directed by: John McTiernan
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios
Written by Nick McCann
Tis the season to shoot the hell out of bad guys. Action films reached their stride in the 1980s, pushing new adrenaline-fueled techniques for some true showstoppers in the cinema. Stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were larger than life with bulging muscles and access to as many arms and ammo as those hulking bods could carry. As the decade pushed on, the genre began to focus more on grounded heroes that were relatable, and vulnerable, with slightly less bulging muscle per square inch. Amidst this shift, a rising actor came along named Bruce Willis, who for a portion of his career was at the peak of action filmmaking.
You know the story. Terrorists ruining Christmas at Nakatomi Plaza right when officer John McClane is trying to pick up the pieces of his marriage. “Die Hard” goes to great lengths to set up McClane’s ordinary setting and real-world problems before the bullets start flying. The script is tightly wound and keeps every story element in check while taking us all over the tower.
All this excitement is propelled by a tremendous character ensemble. Willis completely owns the role and your attention. As McClane, he’s a dark-humored, quick-witted, and fast-thinking cop. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber is equally compelling in his sophistication. Intelligent as he is ruthless, the interplay between him and Willis makes for the most engaging scenes outside of the firefights. The other performers also do fantastic work, feeling well realized in however long they are present. Nobody feels useless. Even with someone like Paul Gleason’s stupidly stubborn police chief (or honestly every cop on the street that isn’t Carl Winslow), there’s a purpose to everyone on screen.
These elements make the action hit much harder. Fights are brutal, greatly emphasizing the cramped setting and survival aspect of the film. Jan de Bont’s camera work is very slick in how it flows through the space, and the editing is also wicked good on timing, knowing just how long to let a shot go without leaving anything out. Director John McTiernan highlights the geography of the film perfectly. It’s a wonder how shaky cam and fast editing overtook a style like this for so long.
There are some top-line visual effects on display too. From pyrotechnics to blood squibs, everything holds up nicely technically and gives way to one incredible moment after another. It’s also a great-sounding movie with booming gunshots and explosions. In particular, Michael Kamen’s score is perfect. Every cue nails it at every interval, be it creeping quiet moments or bombastic melodies that heighten excitement.
“Die Hard” is just a damn lovable movie. It’s the type of movie where even the smallest shortcomings can be drowned out by basic suspense of disbelief. This movie set a new standard for action films in the late 80s and continues to be the tip of the spear in many circles. Hugely imitated but never topped. A joyous watch, come Christmas or any time of year.
“Die Hard” Trailer