Die Hard (1988)
“He’s the only chance anyone has got.”
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
Synopsis: John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save wife Holly Gennaro and several others, taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
John McTiernan pretty much provided the template from which 1990s action movies were drawn with this movie, and in terms of its action sequences Die Hard still outguns the vast majority of imitations that followed. Bruce Willis re-defined himself as an action hero, playing John McClane, a New York cop arriving in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to see his kids. McClane’s also hoping to reconcile with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who moved to LA after winning a prestigious job with the Nakatomi Corporation, and he swings by the corporation’s impressive tower block to pay her a visit. Unfortunately, his arrival almost coincides with that of a gang of thieves intent on relieving the company’s vaults of $640 million in negotiable bonds. This is no ordinary gang of thieves, however. They’re a highly organised international (but mostly German) crew who have clearly paid out for a fortune in equipment and weaponry prior to even embarking on their crime. They could probably all live quite comfortably off the money they spent to finance the raid on the Nakatomi Corporation but, like all professionals, they obviously feel compelled to improve on their previous achievements.
Leader of the gang is Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), a smarmily charming and intelligent man who clearly feels superior to all those around him. Gruber goes about his business with a ruthless efficiency. He’s confident and unflappable, and appears to have allowed for any and all complications — apart from self-professed fly in the ointment McClane, who is cleaning up in his wife’s executive washroom when the criminals strike. As the gang rounds up the revellers, a barefoot and shirtless McClane hides out on the unfinished top floors of the building. He ventures down to the company’s boardroom just in time to witness the Nakatomi CEO (James Shigeta) having his head blown off for refusing to disclose the code to the vault.
The stakes rise higher as McClane runs around the building, crawling through air vents and scaling lift shafts as he picks off his foes one by one. And if a bunch of vicious stop-at-nothing international gangsters masquerading as terrorists wasn’t bad enough, he also has to contend with a poorly-conceived Deputy Police Chief (Paul Gleason) who is so consistently wrong in everything he says and does that he’d be a liability as a janitor let alone a high-ranking police official, and a couple of arrogant FBI agents (Big) Johnson (Robert Davi) and (Little) Johnson (Grand L. Bush) who care little for the lives of those trapped inside the building. In fact, McClane’s only real ally on the outside is Powell, a lone uniformed cop (Reginald Veljohnson) with whom he forms a respect so deep that you expect them to start tonguing one another as soon as they finally meet up.
That overly-cute interplay between McClane and the cop is really the only thing about Die Hard that might stick in the throat of some viewers. Other than that, it rightly deserves it place as the action movie all other action movies wished they could be (even the Die Hard sequels). The dialogue might not be the sharpest, but the script comes up with some memorable one-liners, most of them delivered by Willis in his inimitably smug style, and the explosions look so much better than the computer ‘enhanced’ explosions that were to follow in the 1990s.
Die Hard is based on a novel called Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, which was in fact a sequel to another book called The Detective, which was made into a movie in 1968. So, technically, Die Hard is a sequel to that movie, which is why the then-73-year-old Frank Sinatra, who starred in The Detective and had a clause in his contract that stipulated he got first refusal for the starring role in any sequels, was the first actor to be offered the part of John McClane. If I’d have been Frank I’d have accepted the part and let them pay me a million or two to change my mind…
(Reviewed 28th January 2013)