Monday, December 12, 2011

The Demented Tower

Film: Die Hard
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Christmas season is well and truly upon us, and when it comes to holiday films, there are plenty that I enjoy. Die Hard is one of them. It’s not really a Christmas film except that it takes place during a Christmas party. It could just as easily take place at any time of the year, but since it’s the end of the year, well, here we are.

Die Hard is a simple film that takes its basic idea to an extreme, and does it about as well as it’s ever been done. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a New York cop visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles. His wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), has gone back to her maiden name. She has a fantastic career as a top executive in a Japanese company, which might make the more perceptive and cynical viewer wonder why Mcclane is still working as a cop at all. Regardless, this is a step toward reconciliation between the couple—she has invited him out to her company’s Christmas party.

Once he arrives at the building, we get the meeting between the couple we expect. We are also introduced to company boss Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) and international sales guy and all-around sleazebag Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner). And then the fun starts. A whole bunch of apparent terrorists show up at the building, hold everyone hostage, kill Takagi, and otherwise raise hell. However, when they show up, McClane is elsewhere, and thus he becomes the fly in the ointment for the bad guys, running around the building creating his own brand of chaos and doing anything he can to keep the hostages alive and screw up the plans of the bad guys.

That’s really it. Lots of explosions, lots of gunfire, a few crazy stunts, and an ending. There are a few other key roles not mentioned at this point—former beat cop-turned-desk jockey Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) shows up and acts as McClane’s advocate for much of the film and is responsible for calling in the cavalry. The bad guys are headed by a guy named Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in one of his great roles), who is slick, suave, charming, and contemptible. We also encounter a television reporter named Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) who has delusions of grandeur and a very high opinion of himself. But really, this film is all about Bruch Willis kicking ass and not even bothering to take names.

I don’t really know why Die Hard works as well as it does except for the fact that it is, for lack of a better way to put it, completely balls-out at all times. What McClane goes through is extreme, his reaction is extreme, and the explosions are extreme. And it is awesome. There is no other word for it. It’s entirely possible that I call it awesome (I and virtually everyone else I know, mind you) because we were around in 1988 when this film was first released, but there is a reason that Die Hard is considered one of the great action films of…ever.

Bruce Willis is a big part of the reason for this. He takes a massive beating in this film and ends up slicked over with his own blood by the end of the film. He also makes a ton of wisecracks through the film, which is one of the reasons he makes such a great action hero. The other reason this film works as well as it does is thanks to Alan Rickman. Rickman is virtually always entertaining in any role, and Hans Gruber is a meaty role that he really sinks his teeth into. Hans Gruber is one of the great film villains not just because he is a suave bastard but also because just like McClane, he has a bunch of great lines, and Rickman delivers them with decided relish.

All of this adds up to a film that is riotously entertaining. There’s not a frame of this film that isn’t fun to watch. Further, this is a film that is fun on a second, third, (or as it was for me today) tenth or twentieth viewing. If you haven’t seen this, go see it now. And watch at least the first sequel which is crazier, harder to believe, and almost as much fun.

Why to watch Die Hard: Because it kicks ass.
Why not to watch: Eventually, this series dips into PG-13 and starts to suck.


  1. I must say, I enjoy the post title here...

  2. The movie was retitled "Crystal Trap" ("Piège de Cristal") in French.

  3. @Nick--I did that with you in mind.

    @Kevin--In German, it was called "Die Slowly" ("Stirb Langsam"). I was in Germany/Europe when the sequel was released. If I remember correctly, the sequel was called "58 Minutes to Live" in French, of course.

  4. I totally associate Die Hard with Christmas, probably because it's usually on tv around that time!

  5. I get that. However, I feel strange watching, say, A Christmas Story in July. There's never a bad time to watch Die Hard.

  6. I'm starting a push for Fox to re-release this in theaters around Xmas. I'm totally in, and I don't think I saw it in theaters the first time around.

    It is hard to put your finger on exactly what is so note-perfect about it - like you say, it must just be that there are no real weaknesses. Charismatic hero, awesome villain, good enough second bananas on both sides, great tempo, some comic relief that doesn't get stupid, great music. It's got it all, man!

  7. Yeah, it really does. I'm not kidding when I tell people it's my favorite Christmas movie. In terms of action films, it's nearly perfect, and John McClane is a perfect action hero. You're right about the supporting cast, too. I even like the bad guys--even the dude who looks exactly like Huey Lewis.

    Fox could re-release this every year in December, and I would go...every year. If you're starting a petition or something, I'll sign.

  8. Ha! I love the Huey Lewis guy, too.

  9. I wondered if that was Huey Lewis for a while when I saw the movie on opening night. Funny. Gotta like the little bit where the other guy steals the candy bar, too.

    Hopefully my next four non-traditional Christmas movie reviews won't intersect like we did on Die Hard. I did mention in my parent post that it's pretty much the consensus best movie of that kind ever made.

  10. Everyone loves the Huey Lewis guy! The candy bar thievery is another little moment like that--it's a real, human moment and makes the film just a touch more believable, because you know someone would do that. Hell, I'd do that.

    I've only got a couple more Christmas-specific movies I'm planning on watching in the next few weeks, and both are traditional holiday fare.

  11. For me, what makes this a truly great movie is the serious amount of beating Willis takes before finally conquering – I always buy that trick in some perverse way!

  12. It certainly grants an otherwise unbelievable action film a touch of realism. I feel the same way about Indiana Jones.

  13. Just a totally awesome action flick and should be watched by almost anybody who appreciates a good time. Good review.

  14. @Dan--Amen. I'm sure there are people who don't like this movie, but I don't know if I want to talk to them.

  15. This is one of the few action movies I really like. Hans Gruber is definitely one of my favourite movie villains. Nice review man.

  16. After the mention of this film over at my blog, I thought I'd check this post out.

    I love Bruce Willis. I really do. I love how action eighties this movie is.

    ANYWAY - real point - you said this is your favorite Christmas movie. That totally reminded me of a now-defunct podcast that is still one of my favorite movie podcasts, All Movie talk ( It ran in 2006-2007, once a week, for a year. The great thing about it is it's NOT about recent releases; it IS about movies from every genre and every era. It holds up to multiple listens. AND the Stephen on there picked Die Hard as his favorite Christmas movie too. So... if you haven't checked it out, I recommend it.

    1. It's SUCH a fun movie. I'm not a massive Willis fan, although I like a number of his films. I can take him or leave him. But this is the movie that made everyone at least give him a chance in things. He's a wisecracking badass, and there's something about that that everyone loves.

      For the record, I'm not the Stephen from that podcast. I wasn't even blogging in 2006.