A man flies from New York to Los Angeles to surprise his wife, who hasn’t seen him in 6 months. The villain of our story is sophisticated and only in it for the money. There’s snow, there’s romance and there’s festive music throughout. These are the hallmarks of a classic Christmas Rom-Com, but it is also the hallmarks of Die Hard, featuring Bruce Willis as off-duty police officer John Maclane. Many of you may be under the impression that Die Hard is an action film, but the gunfights and explosions are actually rather scarce, though what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Particularly outstanding is the explosion in the elevator shaft, which seems to the rock the camera to its very core. This film is, in short, is a work of art – and it deserves the franchise that it spawned.
We follow John Maclane as he attends a party at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve, where the building is overtaken by Hans Gruber and 11 other “terrorists”. While the FBI plot their attack, and the local news network watches, John takes a defiant stand. John’s limo driver Argyle is also there, chilling in the garage. The inclusion of Argyle is, to me, one of the best elements in the entire film, because the film barely pauses to acknowledge him. We’ll be in the middle of a gunfight and suddenly cut to Argyle chatting away on his limo-phone having heard nothing. I’ve always been a fan of juxtapositions like this, though I’m not sure I can aptly explain why. I think it’s because they are a form of expectation subversion which is one of my favourite forms of comedy. Perhaps it’s because I see a little bit of my own lack of observation skills in Argyle, and as such relate to him more than I do John Maclane. Perhaps it’s because I think he’s cute. It could be any and/or all of these things.
As I’m sure we all know, the true hero of Die Hard is Sargent Alan (Al) Powell. At first he seems to be a regular movie cop, buying vast amounts of Twinkies “for his wife” but then he is called to Nakatomi Plaza to investigate a disturbance. He decides that it’s a wild goose chase and that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, until a terrorist falls onto the hood of his police car and he is shot at. While most films might make Al a one-time gag character, Die Hard instead opts to keep him around, making him a straight-man in comparison to the stereotypical FBI and LAPD. Al ends up being one of the most well developed characters ever to exist in an 80’s action movie, if not film in general. The finest character in the piece though, is Hans Gruber portrayed by the late Alan Rickman. Here is a villain who simply saunters into the plot, and casually executes his plan. His gentle tone barely falters, but as members of his crew start dying and his detonators go missing, his bravado starts to falter. Once he discovers Holly Gennero to be the wife of John Maclane, he takes her hostage out of spite. I can’t see Hans at the start of the movie doing anything out of spite, which goes to show how good John is at his job.
Die Hard is a character driven story in the guise of an action blockbuster. While Hans Gruber’s death may be an obvious green screen, the explosions are real. The practical effects, while minimal, are great. CGI has its advantages, but almost nothing beats watching a genuine explosion occur. It’s only topped by watching those same explosions at Christmas time, this year and every year that follows.
Until Next Time…