New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to LA for Christmas, hoping to reunite with his estranged wife. As he arrives at her office party, in a skyscraper 30 floors up, so Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) arrives, along with his merry band of mercenaries. As the police fail to combat the terrorists, McClane fights from within, to free the hostages, and his wife.
Die Hard is probably the greatest action movie ever made. You’ve got machine guns, rocket launchers, armoured vehicles and helicopter assaults. You’ve got Alan Rickman chewing the scenery as Willis’ everyman pops up like a slasher movie monster, killing off one terrorists at a time. And you’ve got one of the best kiss-off lines committed to celluloid. Yippie Ki-yay, M*therf*cker.
This is John McTiernan, one of the greatest action movie directors, at his peak, and in the middle of his run of great movies. First Predator, then Die Hard, then The Hunt for Red October. Then there’s Willis, who after five years on Moonlighting was seen as a TV actor, not a movie star. Here he’s a revelation, both an action hero and an everyman, performing his own stunts while wisecracking about the lousy Christmas he’s having.
The film is carefully staged, with a great tempo, alternating between tense action sequences and great character moments. Not just Willis, who slays when he tears up and says “She’s heard me say I love you a thousand times, she’s never heard me say I’m sorry”, but the whole ensemble. Whether it’s Clarence Gilyard, reciting Christmas poetry while calling out the positions of the assaulting SWAT team, Robert Davi as one of the Johnson’s from the FBI, smugly falling for every trap Gruber lays, Hart Bochner attempting to negotiate with a nose full of cocaine, or William Atherton, the slimiest reporter to walk the earth.
Then there’s his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) who shows strength and character while most love interests in action movies merely scream for help, and his only friend on the outside Al (Reginald VelJohnson) who gets his own character arc, and his chance to redeem himself and be more than a twinkie eating patrol officer.
This is an action movie with character. More than an action movie though, Die Hard embodies the spirit of Christmas. There are miracles happening all over the place; McClane dodging bullets, falling down elevator shafts, and throwing himself off an exploding building attached only to a hose line. How does he survive? It’s a Christmas miracle.
You have classic songs like “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” and Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”. Christmas cheer as McClane sends down a dead body with “Ho! Ho! Ho! Now I have a machine gun” scrawled upon it, and the terrorists receive gift after gift from the incompetent experts surrounding the building.
Most importantly, it’s about the family getting together for Christmas; McClane struggling to free his wife and bring a teddybear home for his daughter. While killing every terrorist that gets in his way.
Die Hard (1988), directed by John McTiernan, is available on blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 18.