In Die Hard New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) visits his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) on Christmas Eve at a holiday party in the headquarters of the company she works for. When a group of terrorists disrupt the party and take everybody hostage except him he takes it upon himself to save the hostages, including his wife. And he will do anything in his power to save her, even if that means jumping from a 150m high skyscraper hanging onto a fire hose.
I don’t think that in 1988 anyone could have predicted the cultural impact of Die Hard. Not only did it catapult Bruce Willis from TV star to full blown action hero, but it also became a much copied formula. Every other action star would have his own take on Die Hard. Stallone had Cliffhanger, Seagal Under Siege and Van Damme Sudden Death.
Die Hard is one of those rare movies I can watch over and over again. It’s probably in my top ten movies of all time. A list in which entertainment sometimes weighs heavier than quality. As good as The Godfather is, I’d rather watch Die Hard because it’s so much more fun.
The strength of Die Hard lies in several key aspects: it’s simple but brilliant premise, the casting, comic relief, non-stop action and tight direction by director John McTiernan.
Bruce Willis brings an everyday guy element to a role which could have easily gone to established action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, but then the stakes would have been much lower. He has also great comic timing, and his quips make up the most entertaining dialogue in the movie. Die Hard wouldn’t be half as fun if it wasn’t for his strong delivery. He really made the role his own.
There is also Alan Rickman in his first movie role as terrorist leader Hans Gruber. He brings the whole bad-guy role to a new level. His suave and flawless performance makes Gruber one of the most memorable movie villains of all time.
But they are just parts in a machine; a well oiled machine. Even though it has a running time of two hours, at no point does anything in the movie feel like filler. Every little set-up gets a pay-off at one point in the movie. With the exception of a few scenes this movie is one large adrenaline rush. Even after more than 20 viewings scenes still tend to feel tense. If that isn’t great directing, than I don’t know what is.
Die Hard still holds up strong after 30 years. The only thing that is dated is the technology and the customs of the 80’s: Bringing a gun onto a plane, cocaine use, indoor smoking, drinking while pregnant and the obvious lack of tech we now take for granted. How boring would Die Hard have been if John McClane could have just called the police on his cell phone?
This movie would have been over within 30 minutes. Back then bad guys could just isolate people by cutting a telephone wire. Nowadays people always would have to find themselves in remote locations where they have no reception.
Die Hard is the most perfect form of R-rated escapism there is. It’s a rollercoaster movie, the kind of rollercoaster that you get in line for again and again.