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Friday Film Review: Die Hard

Die Hard (1988)

Genre: Action Adventure

Grade: B+

Three years ago I did a group review of some of my favorite Christmas movies. A number of you listed your own holiday standbys and for many of you “Die Hard” seems to top the list. When I was thinking about what movies to review this year, I wondered if I’d have enough to fill out the month of December. Turns out I’ve got too many and here’s the second one for this year – a day before December but what the heck. Yippee – kai – yay, motherf*ckers.

NYPD Officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is traveling to LA in the hope of reconciling with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). He arrives as her employer is throwing the company Christmas party in the as yet unfinished Nakatomi Plaza Building. As the party continues, John and Holly argue about the state of their marriage before Holly is called out of her office to give rousing speech to the troops. It’s then that a group of European terrorists headed by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the almost empty building with surgical precision and ruthless efficiency. Their goal is the hundreds of millions of dollars in company bonds locked in an insanely hard to crack safe.

Mistakenly thinking they have either killed or captured everyone in the building, the terrorists are stunned to discover that there’s a lone wolf on the loose. Things turn personal when the first terrorist John tangles with and kills turns out to be the brother of Karl (Alexander Gudonev), one of the most coldblooded of the original twelve. Knowing he can’t take them out by himself, John desperately tries to get first the LAFD and then the LAPD involved in what’s going on. Though it takes a dramatic “welcome to the party, pal” event to get his attention, Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is soon on John’s side and with him in fighting against the Idiots in Charge (aka the rest of the LAPD and later the FBI). As John’s cat-and-mouse-with-firearms game with Hans & Co continues, can he thwart the terrorists, elude the authorities and manage to save the lives of the 30 hostages?

It takes about 20 minutes to set up the story and kick things off but once the 23 minute mark is past, “Die Hard” is off to the races and unstoppable. When we see John carrying his sidearm on the plane trip to LA or listen to the chauffeur who picks him up at the airport going on about how the limo has VHS!, it’s also clear that this is a 24 year old movie. The shoulder pads Holly and the other women wear are a dead (oooh, forgive the pun) giveaway as well. I wonder how much an airline today would charge John in carry on fees for the giant stuffed bear? Still, it’s aged fairly well considering the number of sequels and “Die Hard on a _____” ripoffs that it spawned. I think the decision to make the whole thing about nothing but greed instead of politics is perfect as it allows the viewer to sit back and enjoy the show instead of being caught up in any issues or on any sides.

First trivia question – How much did a gallon of gasoline cost according to the prices listed at a gas station in one shot of the movie?

John and Hans are two well matched adversaries who can both toss out witty one liners – thus establishing their coolness – under pressure. Willis creates in John McClane an American Everyman whom people can identify with. He’s actually the antagonist of the film in that he has to fight against the establishment as well as the terrorists. His battle with the morons of the LAPD and the cowboys of the FBI (“It’s just like Saigon!”) can be seen as our daily struggle against the clowns in charge of … whatever. We know we’re right. We can’t dump a terrorist body on the hood of a squad car to get our point across but we know those in command usually don’t have a clue. McClane is Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, and our last hope even though he can make mistakes and isn’t perfect. But he’s going to fight to the end and kick ass trying.

Alan Rickman can play such a wonderful villain. From what I’ve read, his spoken German may be mangled but he’s menacing in a debonair, intellectual way all the same. McClane is the irreverent smart ass while Gruber is a smooth, civil, amoral bastard. You just can’t help but get a little frustrated along with him when his ever decreasing band of Euro trash henchmen – they’re Fabios with automatic weapons! – can’t seem to kill McClane. Yet, he’s got charm which keeps me from loathing him all through the film. He’s smart and interesting. Still when his time comes, it’s great. Even though he and his long haired bad boys might be there to steal over $600 million, the look on his face when he goes down —> priceless! Of course if he hadn’t stopped, in this case to laugh instead of the usual villain monologuing, it all might have ended differently.

Second trivia question – what is the name of the candy bar that one of the terrorists debates about before finally stealing and eating it?

The people in charge of the movie do a great job balancing the action with the humor. The DVD I watched has two interesting commentary tracks – a vocal one and a text one that has a wide range of the people involved in the film both in front of and behind the camera. Director John McTiernan says that the movie has faced the type of scorn that we’re used to receiving as romance readers. Oh, it’s *that* type of movie. But he managed to convert some “I only watch depressing European indie films” friends, getting them to watch it and admit that it’s a well thought out thriller that doesn’t cheat as it delivers its yowza. Does the movie totally manipulate us and our emotions? Sure it does. Does it fall off the knife blade of believability? Watch the bit with the fire hose and make your own decision. But it delivers what it promises and is a hell of a ride. I’m a convert now!

Third trivia question – what item found in any US post office ends up allowing John to trick and beat Hans Gruber?

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

  1. carmen webster buxton
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 08:19:39

    Argh! I was so sure when I clicked through to the post from my feed reader, I would see tons of comments with all the trivia questions answered. Instead there were NO comments and I have NO answers! I loved the movie, though. Bruce Willis in his prime and Alan Rickman being deliciously amoral (that was a good word choice. He’s not evil because he enjoys ebing evil; he’s merely selfish to the point of being a sociopath).

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  2. Jayne
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 08:51:16

    @carmen webster buxton: LOL, if no one answers the trivia questions, I’ll post them by the end of the day.

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  3. Kate Meader
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 09:21:51

    Love this movie! Every time it’s on cable, I can’t look away, not only because the action is fantastic but it’s also really funny. The FBI guys (Agent Johnson, Special Agent Johnson – no relation); the inept police chief’s take after the disastrous air raid (we’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess); Gruber claiming a terrorist connection (I read about them in Time magazine). I chuckle while I cheer for Bruce Willis. I think the candy bar is a Payday? And the US post office find is mailing tape.

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  4. EmilyW
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 09:46:48

    Love this movie. And his poor feet! :) I cringe during that scene every time.

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  5. Jayne
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 10:22:33

    @Kate Meader: Mailing tape is correct! The police chief is a putz but that is a great comment he makes about the FBI guys.

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  6. Jayne
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 10:39:04

    @EmilyW: Oh his feet. But then by the end up the movie, he’s so beat up that his feet are almost the least of his problems.

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  7. leslie
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 12:40:58

    Bruce Willis is a nice guy. When we first moved to L.A. my boys and I ran into him at the movies. The boys were on him like white on rice and he was terrific. They love Die Hard and they wanted to talk and he let them. The glint in his eye when my then eight year told him about his twelve stitches and ask how many did he get (in the movie) was priceless. Die Hard is my boys favorite Christmastime movie and I look forward to watching it with them every year. The pre-show is reminising about meeting Mr. Willis.

    Christmas

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  8. leslie
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 12:51:35

    @Jayne: For some reason I couldn’t edit my comment?! It must be my new Kindle. It is a pain compared to my first generation Fire that was run over by a Big Blue Bus. I miss it.

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  9. library addict
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 16:05:02

    I love the original and there are part of the sequels I like. But the romance reader in me is sad that the reconciliation between John and Holly didn’t last.

    Gas was 74 9/10 for regular and 77 9/10 for unleaded at the am/pm where Al is buying the Twinkies.

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  10. susan
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 20:39:12

    Just had a Thanksgiving conversation about movies that mention Twinkies and this was one that made the list. It really is amazing how many there are.

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  11. Jayne
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 21:13:18

    @library addict: The romance reader in me is sad too.

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  12. Jayne
    Nov 30, 2012 @ 21:20:50

    The answer to the second trivia question is – a Nestle Crunch bar.

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  13. Laura Florand
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 08:44:17

    @Jayne: Yeah, you would think a guy who would literally walk on broken glass for you would be worth sticking with. I can’t remember any of the others after this one, though, or why/how it didn’t stick. Weren’t they still together in Die Hard 2, and she was on the plane? The first one holds up to multiple re-watchings, but the others just kind of faded away for me.

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  14. paganalexandria
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 11:19:44

    Love this movie! It’s the first time I was consciously aware of my love of the villain over the hero in most action flicks. Even loved the Euro trash henchmen.

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  15. Jayne
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 16:30:56

    @Laura Florand: I’m pretty sure I read he was trying to save her again in the second movie but since I haven’t tried it, I can’t be sure.

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  16. SusanL
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 09:35:22

    DH2: Holly was on one of the planes circling the airport, destined to crash. They split between two and three, which featured Hans’ brother (played by Jeremy Irons.) I actually enjoyed four, which has John saving his daughter. Five will team John up with son Jack (I just looked it up.)

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