Monday, February 09, 2015

Die Hard

Based on the novel by Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, Die Hard is the story of a NYPD officer who travels to Los Angeles to meet his estranged wife at an office party where a group of terrorists has taken over the building forcing the officer to take on these men by himself. Directed by John McTiernan and screenplay Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart, the film is an action film set in a high-rise building in Los Angeles where a regular NYPD officer has to take on a group of highly elite criminals inside the building as the role of John McClane is played by Bruce Willis. Also starring Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Alexander Godunov, William Atherton, Paul Gleason, Hart Bochner, and Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. Die Hard is an ass-kicking and thrilling film from John McTiernan.

Set during the Christmas holidays, the film revolves around a simple and no-nonsense New York City police officer in John McClane who arrives to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at the Nakatomi building in the city where an office party is crashed by a group of elite terrorists led by Hans Gruber. For McClane who was able to hide from the festivities, he realizes what needs to be done to save his wife and many other people in the building. Especially as McClane would kill a few bad guys to get the attention of the LAPD and later the FBI as he would have to do everything while not wearing shoes. It’s a film that has a simple premise that is quite typical of action-based suspense-thrillers but what makes it so much more than that aren’t just the characters but also the situation itself and what goes on in and outside of the building.

The film’s screenplay definitely strays away from some of the conventions that is expected in action films largely due to the characters that are created. John McClane is a simple police officer who is good at his job despite being a bit reckless as he knows what to do when trouble emerges. Plus, he’s someone that is very quick-witted and sort of imagines himself as a cowboy because he stands for what is right in the world. In Hans Gruber, McClane finds the perfect opponent as Gruber is a man that is the epitome of highly-elite Euro-trash that can deliver great speeches and knows how to be intimidating. Even as he can do all sorts of negotiation and such to get what he wants when he is really a thief that just wants to steal a shitload of money with his organization. Once he and his group have to deal with McClaine, they realize that they’re messing with someone who is a very unlikely opponent that they’re underestimating. At one point, Gruber would encounter McClane where he pretends to be an office worker who had escaped from the melee.

The script also plays into action outside of the building where McClaine kills a terrorist and uses a walkie-talkie to talk to the LAPD officer Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) who would be his only contact outside of the building after a dead terrorist’s body was dropped on Powell’s car. The script would also have moments of humor as it relates to the LAPD deputy chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason) who tends to say stupid things as he has no clue what he’s doing to handle the situation. Plus, there’s two FBI agents both named Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Johnson) who would take over only to really make more of a mess of things which only motivates McClane to do what is right. Another subplot that is added to the film involves a news reporter in Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) who wants to get the scoop as he would also jeopardize the life of Holly who has been using her maiden name so that Gruber wouldn’t know who she really is. All of which does play into McClane not only saving his wife and her co-workers but also uncover exactly into what Gruber and his goons are trying to do.

John McTiernan’s direction is definitely engaging not just for the intimacy and air of suspense that he puts in his approach to action sequences but balance it with drama and humor. The film does start off as a comical and enjoyable film where McClane meets his chauffer Argyle (De’voreaux White) as McClane would attend this office Christmas party where his wife his at as it establishes what is going on and why McClane is there. Then comes Gruber and his gang where it has this edge into what is going to happen where McTiernan’s use of wide and medium shots come into play to showcase the action. Especially where McTiernan creates some unique camera angles in some eerie set pieces including a scene where McClane hides in a vent where there’s some very funny remarks that McClane makes. The usage of high and low angles help play into the suspense as well as the scenes where the terrorists battle it out with the LAPD where it shows how efficient and professional these guys are. When they face McClane, they really underestimate how good McClane is when he’s armed with machine guns and explosives.

The action sequences are definitely extravagant which does involve lots of explosions and gunfire as it adds to the sense of chaos that emerges where McClane has to not just face these terrorists but also authorities who have no clue what they’re doing with the exception of Sgt. Powell who is also a no-nonsense cop. McClane’s conversations with Powell not just add elements to the drama but also play into the fact that these are two men who play by a set of old-school rules while dealing with men who play by a new set of rules. All of which leads to an explosive climax that involves McClane and Gruber as it plays into McClane’s own sense of fantasy of being a cowboy doing what is right for a world that is becoming very complicated and messy where people have their own agendas rather than do something good for the world. Overall, McTiernan creates a truly riveting and exhilarating film about a simple NYPD taking on a group of highly-elite bad guys.

Cinematographer Jan de Bont does excellent work with the film‘s nighttime cinematography for its exteriors while using some unique lighting schemes and mood to play into the interior settings as well as the air of suspense. Editors John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste do brilliant work with the editing with its usage of rhythmic cuts to play into the action while slowing things down for the suspense and dramatic moments. Production designer Jackson de Govia, with set decorator Philip Leonard and John R. Jensen, does amazing work with the look of the Nakatomi building interiors including its main office hall where the party is at as well as the other parts of the building. Costume designer Marilyn Vance does nice work with the costumes from the suit that Gruber wears to the more casual look of McClane. Sound editor Richard Shorr does fantastic work with the sound to play into the layers of gunfire and explosion that occurs in the building. The film’s music by Michael Kamen is superb for its bombastic orchestral score and flourishing string arrangements to play into the sense of excitement while its soundtrack features some classical pieces as well as holiday songs including a future classic by Run-DMC.

The casting by Jackie Burch is incredible as it features notable small roles from Lorenzo Caccialanza, Al Leong, Andreas Wisniewski, and Dennis Hayden as some of Hans’ henchmen, Taylor Fry and Noah Land as John and Holly’s children, De’voreaux White as McClane’s young and witty limo driver Argyle, Clarence Gilyard as Gruber’s hacker Theo, Hart Bochner as the sleazy and idiotic Nakatomi executive Ellis, and James Shigeta as Holly’s boss Takagi whom Gruber would target into trying to give him the code for the vault. William Atherton is terrific as the arrogant news reporter Richard Thornburg who is willing to do anything to get a story as he would blackmail his way to get information about John McClane in order to exploit his family. Paul Gleason is superb as deputy chief Dwayne T. Robinson who tends to say idiotic things in his attempt to get control only to screw things up. Robert Davi and Grant L. Bush are fantastic as the FBI agents Johnson as these two men who arrive only to screw things up for McClane and unknowingly give Gruber what he wants.

Reginald VelJohnson is excellent as Sgt. Al Powell as a straight-laced cop who would have an encounter with the terrorists as he would aid McClane through walkie-talkies about what he’s facing. Alexander Godunov is brilliant as Hans’ lead henchman Karl who wants McClane dead after McClane killed his younger brother as he is a very menacing man. Bonnie Bedelia is amazing as McClane’s estranged wife Holly who takes charge for her co-workers as she is able to talk to Gruber while worrying if her husband can still get things through. Alan Rickman is magnificent as Hans Gruber as it’s a performance for the ages where Rickman really showcases some charm and wit to his character but is also a very cunning antagonist that exemplifies the idea of Euro-trash as it’s a real breakthrough for Rickman. Finally, there’s Bruce Willis in an incredible performance as John McClane as it’s a performance that has Willis be the everyman as someone that is just trying to do his job as a cop. Especially as he isn’t the most agile guy as he has to do everything while being barefooted as it’s really an iconic performance for Willis.

Die Hard is an absolutely sensational film from John McTiernan that features great performances from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. The film is without question one of the pillars of what action films should be as well as giving audiences something more by creating characters audiences can root for as well as a villain that manages to be so fun to watch. It’s the kind of film that manages to do more for its genre while also being a fun film to watch during the Christmas holidays. In the end, Die Hard is a phenomenal film from John McTiernan.

John McTiernan Films: (Nomads) - (Predator) - (The Hunt for Red October) - (Medicine Man) - (Last Action Hero) - (Die Hard with a Vengeance) - (The 13th Warrior) - (The Thomas Crown Affair (1999 film)) - (Rollerball (2002 film)) - (Basic)

Die Hard Films: (Die Hard 2) - (Live Free or Die Hard) - (A Good Day to Die Hard)

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

yes, Yes, YEs, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wendell Ottley said...

Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker! What a classic! When this came out, a big part of the appeal was McClane's normalcy. He wasn't some invincible muscle freak like every other action hero of the time. Too bad the series has completely lost sight of that. Speaking of which, are you doing the rest of the franchise?

thevoid99 said...


@Wendell Ottley-Uh... no. If the 2nd and third one are on TV, maybe but I don't know if I want to re-watch the fourth film. I saw bits of the last one and.... I had to change the channel.

You're right. John McClane is supposed to be the normal everyman that audiences can root for. Not some immortal guy who can take bullet hits and still be alive. What kind of bullshit is that?

Brittani Burnham said...

Excellent review! This is such a classic.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-If someone was to ask me what is the greatest action film ever made.... it's this one. That's my answer.