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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Movie Review: DIE HARD


"These guys are mostly European judging by their clothing labels and... cigarettes. They're well-financed and very slick."
-- John McClane

Die Hard is a 1988 action film directed by John McTiernan that centers around a heist of a major corporation during their annual Christmas party. After six months of separation, New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) decides to fly to Los Angeles to visit his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids for the Christmas holiday. He goes to surprise her at her office in the still-under-construction Nakatomi Plaza building where her company is celebrating an incredibly successful year. After a short time, however, a band of terrorists led by a German man named Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) breaks into the building and takes over, claiming that they are going to teach the greedy international company a lesson by stealing $640 million in bonds. Unfortunately for them, however, they do not realize that McClane is in the building and will do anything to stop them from their plot.

Obviously, the Die Hard franchise has proven to be one of the most successful action franchises in cinematic history, and with four films - and allegedly a fifth on the way - it's easy to see that they're incredibly popular with their fanbase. However, it all started with this Academy Award-nominated 1988 venture that put the name "John McClane" into the collective public consciousness. I can't quite remember the first time I had the chance to see this movie, but I remember loving it instantly, and I have to say that this viewing only made me appreciate it all the more.

Let's talk about the film's screenplay. It's difficult to make a convincing screenplay for an action flick because, in the course of cinematic history, nearly every action cliché has been tried and tested over and over again. However, I posit that there are two specific reasons why Die Hard's screenplay succeeds. First, the film finds a way to come full circle without leaving any loose ends. There are some larger, extremely important story arcs that need to be addressed before film's end, and your average action flick would address these and hope for the best. However, where Die Hard succeeds is in its attention to detail, coming full circle with even their minute references here and there. In stage production, there's an old adage that says, "If you show the audience a gun in the first act, it must go off in the second act." In a way, Die Hard follows this frame of mind. Even the slightest mention of something earlier in the film is addressed by film's end, and this attention to detail is simply fantastic.

The second reason the film's screenplay proves to be so effective is that it creates very unique and complete characters with whom the audience can relate. The characters themselves are extremely well-written; however, it's up to the actors to bring these characters to life, and I think that each member of the cast plays their part to a tee. Obviously, Willis has made a bit of a name for himself by portraying McClane time and time again over the years, but he brings his best performance in the role here, introducing us to the "shoot first, ask questions later" cop whose gruffness we all grow to know and love. However, I think that Rickman's Gruber is the best-written character, bringing a very precise set of ideologies to the table that Rickman portrays extremely well in what was his first feature-length theatrical release. We're also getting a bit of comic relief from some of the supporting characters (see: Reginald VelJohnson and De'voreaux White) who keep the movie on a bit of an even keel and play off Willis's brand of comedy quite well. Overall, I'd say we're getting a top-notch cast for an action film, which is saying quite a bit.

I'd also like to make note of the film's soundtrack, which relies heavily Beethoven's 9th Symphony as well as quite a bit of Christmastime music. The use of Beethoven in some of the film's scenes accentuates the scenes perfectly, and it stuck out so wonderfully that I had to mention it here. I apologize if this seems like a tangent, so I hope you'll forgive me for the digression.

Ultimately, Die Hard is one of the most iconic and well-received action films ever to hit the silver screen. It currently holds a 94% approval rating on, which offers the following critical consensus:
Its many imitators (and sequels) have never come close to matching the taut thrills of the definitive holiday action classic.
I don't think I could've said it any better myself. Die Hard set the gold standard for the action genre, and while there are some films that have come close in the twenty-three years since its release, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that truly and completely surpasses it in quality and enjoyability.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

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