Die Hard Review: The Mother of All Action Movies
There’s a reason why, 25 years after its release, John McTiernan’s Die Hard
is such a ubiquitous film. There’s a reason why it’s been sequelized and duplicated to death. There’s a reason why, following it, Bruce Willis became a star. There’s a reason why it’s often named among the very best action movies.
It’s because Die Hard
is awesome—plain and simple. There isn’t anything deep about the film, but you’ll feel jacked up for two hours, non-stop, as John McClane (Willis) and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) engage in a physical and mental battle up, down, and all around Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Plaza.
Gruber and his merry band of thugs have kidnapped a group of businessmen and women attending an office Christmas party. One of these women is Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), McClane’s wife. He works in New York as a cop; She’s a successful West Coast businesswoman. The two, despite being on shaky ground, are spending the holiday together, but when Gruber’s men start shooting, McClane sneaks away and starts wreaking havoc on the kidnappers from the shadows. Gruber calls him a cowboy. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” McClane responds.
For a film that’s essentially a battle of wills between good and evil, there are a lot of brilliant supporting characters to keep us entertained. Argyle (De’voreaux White) is McClane’s limo driver who parks his souped up (with a VHS player!) vehicle outside Nakatomi while all hell breaks loose. Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) is a journalist who doesn’t believe anything should get in the way of a good story. Big Johnson (Robert Davi) and Little Johnson (Grand L. Bush) play devil-may-care FBI agents who miss their posts in Vietnam.
A truly crucial role, however, belongs to Reginald Veljohnson. His Sgt. Al Powell is John McClane’s lifeline. While shopping for Twinkies, he receives a call to check out some suspicious happenings at Nakatomi. A surprise from the sky sends him scrambling for backup, but the cavalry that arrives isn’t exactly receptive to the idea of a crazy, unnamed man (with no shoes) trying to take down a mysterious terrorist from within the building. Powell’s superiors tell McClane to come down and let the big boys settle this fight. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” McClane responds.
Al and John, however, form quite a bond. The former opens up about a traumatic event that nearly derailed his career. The latter asks the former to tell his wife he loves her. It’s material that’s a little obvious, but it hits home surprisingly hard. You grow to care about these guys over the course of two exhilarating, stressful hours, and because their foil is so menacing, it doesn’t take much to get behind them.
But this is an action movie, so screw feelings, right? While Die Hard
definitely isn’t the biggest and best effects-laden film in history, it generates tension by constraining everything to this one complex. There aren’t any car chases or complex fight scenes. Stripped of all else, Die Hard
is just a giant set piece. Each scene takes us to a different place within that set piece and gives one of the film’s two leads the chance to destroy the other with a sort of homemade weapon or trap. It’s deceptively simple and wholly satisfying.
Before Die Hard
, Bruce Willis was simply the Moonlighting guy. His performance here doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it’s not hard to see why it made him a star. He’s a strung out everyman asked to do way too much. He bleeds copiously and is forced to confront his fear of heights. He’s a great action hero because he does all this with a biting, refreshing sense of humor.
You’ll see more of McClane and Die Hard
, as well as this formula duplicated with other reluctant but invincible heroes. Nothing will touch the original, however. It’s not always the case with franchises, but Die Hard
isn’t your typical franchise movie. It’s an all-timer when it comes to action and very worthy of its place in history.