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Film Review

Die Hard (1988)

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Running time: 2h 12min 
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Roderick Thorp (based on the novel by), Jeb Stuart (screenplay by), Steven E. de Souza (screenplay by) 
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia 

Not everyone has seen Die Hard, but most people will at least recognize the name. The original Die Hard from 1988 was a smash hit that started a very successful film franchise and boosted Bruce Willis’s career in Hollywood enormously. The film is considered by many to be one of the best action films ever made – maybe even the best. I do not personally find it to be quite that superb, but it is objectively a great and extremely influential action film, and I understand why some people think it deserves the gold medal in the action genre. It has also been called one of the best Christmas films, and there is, in my opinion, some merit to that as well.

What makes Die Hard so good, then? Almost every aspect of the film is exceedingly well executed, with only a few things one could find lacking – as long as one is not categorically opposed to the action genre. The cast and their performances are top-notch; Alan Rickman as the main antagonist, the suave terrorist leader Hans Gruber, is especially outstanding. The script is almost perfect for an action film and the direction by Tiernan is superb. The sound design and especially editing are on point as well; the pacing is near perfect. The action scenes and stunts are all done well. The characters are distinct and memorable; they get just the right amount of backstory and personality for the viewer to care about what happens to them. The tone of the film fits it very well, and most of the humour elements work: the film feels almost like a comedy at times and it by no means takes itself completely seriously. I especially enjoy everything with the two FBI agents. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has some iconic one-liners (though I do usually prefer Arnold Schwarzenegger when it comes to that stuff, as I wrote in my review of Commando (1985)). 

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, middle) has panache
John McClane (Bruce Willis) spends a large portion of the film hiding and crawling in air ducts
McClane’s estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is not an action heroine, but she is a strong woman. Notice the fabulous 80s hair

So why do I not like Die Hard more? Do not get me wrong, I still enjoy rewatching it after multiple viewings, and it is undoubtedly a film that deserves its acclaim. Part of the problem is something I have said on some other reviews as well: I have seen the movie too many times for it to not diminish the experience. I have some issues about the film as well, though they might not strictly speaking be “flaws” as much as matter of taste – the film attempts to go for a more realistic tone than what action films usually did in the 80s, but does not fully commit to it. For the most part, the slightly more realistic style does work; Bruce Willis is more believable as a human being (an “everyman” type) than a steroid monster like Schwarzenegger or Stallone; John McClane is vulnerable and has to outthink his opponents (though he is, obviously, protected by plot armour); the stakes are relatively low; and so on. But ammunition is seemingly almost unlimited, and shooting from the hip is still in vogue – something that works perfectly well in something like Commando, which is so far removed from reality it might as well be fantasy, but is (slightly) jarring in a more realistic setting such as this. I think I would like Die Hard way more if the gunplay was handled more realistically like in something like John Wick (2014). This is something that I suspect most viewers will not be bothered by much, however. As in many films, our hero could be killed very easily a couple of times, but the terrorists do not take the opportunity when they should. I suppose I should also mention how silly the way the terrorists manage to open the vault by guessing the password. All in all, these annoyances/flaws can, depending on the viewer, be ignored easily or hinder enjoyment to some extent. 

There is a good chance for an explosion wherever McClane goes
This time in Hollywood, the terrorists are German instead of Russian

Willis is an actual actor unlike Schwarzenegger, but I feel he is not as interesting or captivating on screen as the Austrian Oak. On a side note, I prefer McTiernan’s other famous action film, Predator (1987), over Die Hard. I am sure I will eventually do a review about that, so I will not speak at length about it – it does star Arnold, though. Personal preferences aside, it must be said that Willis is almost as good as Rickman in this movie. Additionally, the air duct crawling would be even more absurd if someone the size of Schwarzenegger was the lead, so that is another point for Willis.

McClane does not just execute the terrorists, he is always given moral justification for the killing
Die Hard has that Christmas spirit

Die Hard is a great action flick, there is no denying that. It might not be the best of its genre, though. Like most other action movies, Die Hard is best enjoyed in good company with good beverages. I showed the movie to my girlfriend who had not seen it before, and she enjoyed it for the most part, but, after being forced by me to watch Schwarzenegger films, was slightly disappointed in how Willis’s John McClane hid at the beginning instead of just obliterating everyone head-on like Arnie usually does.

Rating: 8.0 / 10

Time I had seen this film prior to this viewing: at least 5 

Would I want to rewatch this film? After a while quite probably 

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