DIE HARD - Golden Oldies On the Big Screen
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a humorous debate that’s been around for years about whether ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie. Yes, it’s a violent R-rated thriller, the one that made a huge movie star of Bruce Willis and also kicked British actor Alan Rickman up several notches, but it’s also set entirely on Christmas Eve. In Los Angeles, of course, but hey, Christmas Eve! Anyway, local theaters apparently consider it a Christmas film as it’s being revived on the big screen this weekend at several multiplexes. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 20, 1988. And yes, I do regret having condescendingly underrated Bruce Willis as I did, though I stand by my criticisms of the film itself. Despite those flaws, however, it remains enormously entertaining.
Bruce Willis has decided to switch from the light comedy of his first two movies (“Blind Date,” “Sunset”) and his hit TV show (“Moonlighting”) and move into the action-thriller motif.
And he just may have a rock-’em-sock-’em big winner with “Die Hard.”
The irony is that this doesn’t need to be a Bruce Willis picture (despite the reported $5 million he received for it). The difference between “Die Hard” and “The Dead Pool,” for example, is the difference between a director’s film and a star’s film.
“The Dead Pool” is all Clint Eastwood, who is, of course, a bigger-than-life iconic movie star. Only he could have made that movie work as it does.
But “Die Hard” is a stylishly structured, witty send-up of the genre while rooting itself firmly in the genre. And the star could have been anyone.
As it is, Willis will do.
He plays a hard-as-nails but nonetheless quite human New York cop out of his element in Los Angeles. He’s there to attend a Christmas Eve party in a high-rise office building where his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is a corporate executive.
Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, 'Die Hard' (1988)
While Willis is changing clothes in the washroom the party is crashed by apparent terrorists who make it clear immediately that human life has little meaning to them.
So, instinctively, Willis hides out and tries to find a way to reach the local police. Meanwhile, realizing there is nothing to keep these guys from killing their hostages — which include his wife — Willis begins using minor terror tactics of his own to distract the terrorists. And they turn into major tactics as the film builds.
On the surface this sounds like little more than “Rambo” meets “The Towering Inferno” but there’s a lot more going on here — and much of it is comic.
One major plus in Willis’ character is that he’s not a callous killer like Dirty Harry or John Rambo. The first time he kills one of the terrorists it’s an accident and the second time he must be provoked to save himself. In that regard he’s more like Indiana Jones.
The film’s suspense builds as Willis finds himself trapped at every turn. Fate and luck intervene, of course, and nothing here is like real life — but this is a powerful action picture that grabs the audience and doesn’t let go. So who has time to think about lapses in logic?
Director John McTiernan, who also gave us “Predator” — another very stylishly directed thriller — knows how to push all the right buttons and there are so many hair-raising action scenes in “Die Hard” that Indiana Jones would feel envious.
The script has some nice twists to it — such as having these terrorists as renegades that even terrorist organizations don’t want to be associated with. But ultimately it overplays its hand, especially with an idiotic “Friday the 13th”-“Fatal Attraction” ending.
Bruce Willis, 'Die Hard' (1988)
Aside from the fingernail-biting action, however, it is the many delightful little comic touches that give the movie its multi-level feel, and most of them go by so quickly they might be missed if you aren’t paying attention: A tough terrorist whines when he is pricked by a rose thorn, another takes a moment from his duties to steal a candy bar, etc.
There are also some nice supporting characters, in particular the chief villain, played with oozing charm by veteran stage actor Alan Rickman, and the overweight cop who befriends Willis via walkie-talkie, played by Reginald Veljohnson. Alexander Godunov is also good as Rickman’s top killer.
On the other hand, Paul Gleason, as the deputy police chief, is doing his patented dolt-in-charge (he was the teacher in “The Breakfast Club,” the coach in “Johnny Be Good,” etc.) and it’s a very bad choice for this film. The FBI agents (Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush) likewise are portrayed as hard-nosed dimwits and a TV reporter (William Atherton) is particularly — and stereotypically — loathsome.
Sadly, Bonnie Bedelia, a terrific actress, has very little to do but stand (or be dragged) around. She deserves much better.
“Die Hard” is at its worst when the line where satire begins and broad cartoon leaves off is obscured, but when this movie is sharp it’s very sharp indeed. And the incredible heavy-hitter action sequences are truly gripping.
“Die Hard” is deserving of its R rating, for a lot of violence and profanity, along with a couple of brief scenes that contain female nudity and drugs (one character is a coke-head).