Movie Review : Die Hard (1988)
How does one reviews DIE HARD? Is it even possible to speak in critical terms about one of the best (if not THE best) popcorn action movie of all-time? A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is coming out this week to scathing reviews and I owe it to my favorite action hero (McClane, not Willis) to tell the internet how badass he once was. Like many franchises, DIE HARD has outstayed its welcome, but not without leaving us with tremendous memories. Based on Roderick Thorp's novel NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, John McTiernan's 1988 silver screen adaptation took everybody by surprise and became a monster hit. When all the parties involved are in to make a great fucking movie, rather than a cheap cash-in, well it results in a great fucking movie and that's exactly what DIE HARD is.
The original DIE HARD trilogy is (as far as I can remember) the first action movie I saw featuring a married couple. Of course, McClane and his wife Holly don't have each other until the end of the movie (each time, she is the very stake for McClane), but she's not the cliché "love interest". The tension between them is both sexual and domestic at the same time, which makes their dynamic unique. Also, Holly is far from being a damsel in distress. She finds herself in deep trouble by something that's out of her control most times, but she's a stand-up kind of woman. She doesn't take stupid, emotional decisions like all those sexist characters that are still written today and works WITH John to solve the issue, here is being Hans Gruber and his German-techno-band-turned-armed-goons.
Another challenged cliché here is Hans' terrorist squad. They're supposed to be terrorists, but not really and director John McTiernan has astutely thrown an American guy and some dude who looks like a background dancer in a chinese stage production of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN in the mix, just to fuck with you. Plus, McTiernan keeps poking fun at that America Vs Terror mentality we're still caught with today by turning the LAPD cowboy methods of breaking a hostage situation into a violent circus. The FBI agents are idiots and McTiernan makes it a statement that it's about an everyday man being caught in an explosive situation and not a national conflict. Another thing DIE HARD has that movies (and fiction in general) don't have anymore is that it's a heist movie seen from outside the heist crew. Isn't is refreshing?
Have I talked about the direction yet? Not even. I knew this would turn into fanboy rambling, but great movies don't have much you can complain about. John McTiernan directed one of the most crisp and fun-to-watch great deployment action movies. There are both larger-than-life scenes (the explosions were particularly striking) and micro-management (Holly slamming down the family photo). While the script isn't exactly HAMLET, McTiernan does enough to keep you engaged in this crazy story and makes one variable more important than anything. No matter how he decides to shoot a scene, it has to be intelligible to the viewer first. Most action directors today could benefit of watching DIE HARD again to understand its structure (I'm looking at you, Michael Bay).
The magic spark that sets DIE HARD ablaze though, doesn't lie in its cleverness with clichés or in its strong direction. It lies in Roderick Thorp's story. John McClane isn't some CIA trained killing machine like Jason Bourne or Bryan Mills. He's just a dude with martial problems, a dusty badge and an overinflated, borderline pathological sense of responsibility. This is the emotional clincher right there. He's not crazy about bringing down the bad guys. He just wants his wife back and celebrate Christmas like a normal person. It was great watching DIE HARD again, for it is a movie that does many things we have lost sight of over the years. It's the quality standard we should demand from our entertainment.