A Lifetime in Film 1988 #1: Die Hard

Review:

I’d like to say that the timing of this review is planned – Christmas is only a couple of days away and watching Die Hard has become one of the most enduring holiday traditions among film lovers everywhere. Of course, it’s still debatable whether Die Hard truly qualifies as a big-C “Christmas” movie, since it was never really conceived as that by the filmmakers, but it its legacy as such is interesting nevertheless. Watching the film in the modern day, its inclusions of references to the holiday seem a bit shoehorned in, if only because modern eyes have been so inundated with over-the-top Christmas movies over the last two decades that we are used to getting it all or nothing.

Aside from the Christmas discussion, we need to get something out of the way – Die Hard is one of the best action movies of all time. I shook my head throughout as I could not believe how director John McTiernan gets every single scene right seemingly effortlessly, and how today’s modern action filmmakers struggle to make action films without trudging through needless developments, over-the-top special effects sequences, or over-wrought and boring “final” battles. Not even Christopher Nolan has been able to make an action film of the quality of Die Hard in his storied career.

Part of it is the editing. Great action films are arguably made great during the edit process. The first thing one notices about Die Hard is the flow. There aren’t wasted minutes on scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor. McTiernan quickly sets up the situation, the infamous setting, the main protagonists and we’re off to the races. The introduction of the terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) is both scary due to their ruthlessness and also exciting, because you want to see how John McClane (Bruce Willis) – an off-duty police officer visiting his wife’s work, will get to deal with the situation.

As I was watching the film I did become quite sad about Alan Rickman, who passed away way too soon. Gruber is such a great part and his performance so perfect for the role, it makes his loss feel that much greater. Another thing that makes me sad, in a different way, is Bruce Willis’s performance. Here he is actually acting. He (and to be fair many modern audience members) have forgotten that action films require acting too. Over the last decade, Willis has largely sleep-walked through his action movie roles so it’s jarring to see him so alive in a film, so expressive, so intense and actually funny.

Overall Die Hard is a must watch. It has a deserved pedigree, it holds up better than action movies that were released two years ago. More than that, the performances are not throwaway, there are no boring parts, and it’s Christmas. There are no excuses – go watch it now! A

Legacy:

The film has spanned many sequels, all starring Willis in the role of McClane to mixed success. The first two sequels are fine, but the Die Hard franchise entries that have come out in the 21st century have ranged from disappointing to trash. Due to the name though, it’s hard to believe that the series will ever be abandoned, as rumors are swirling that a new film may be in the works.

The most interesting part of the film’s legacy is the aforementioned idea that it is in fact a Christmas movie. I certainly would watch it every Christmas, heck why not once a month all year? It’s that good.

Next up I will be wrapping up the year 1988! I’ll include a best-to-worst list, some blind spots from that year and a short paragraph on the overall lasting impression 1988 has left on the future of cinema.

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