DIE HARD

(1988)
With Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason
Directed by John M
cTiernan
Reviewed by JB

John McLain's getting hosed     Bruce Willis was a known commodity at the time DIE HARD was released, already popular from his hit series Moonlighting. But DIE HARD turned Willis into not just a movie star, but an instant cultural icon.  He was certainly one of the greatest action stars of the '80s and '90s. But even if we didn't have his fine work in such films as PULP FICTION, THE SIXTH SENSE, 12 MONKEYS and SIN CITY, Willis would still be an icon for the DIE HARD films.  

     DIE HARD is the perfect action movie.  You may think that is not a big thing - we've had action movies since the dawn of the motion picture, and each year brings dozens more.  But we're talking perfection here, the pinnacle of a genre.  And since motion pictures are supposed to move, and action movies are all about movement, DIE HARD is among the most perfect movies ever.  

     Of course, it's not among the most meaningful. On the surface, DIE HARD is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.  On Christmas Eve, NYC cop John McClane (Willis) finds himself in the midst of a terrorist takeover of a forty-story corporate tower and must think, punch and shoot his way out.  It is simply a shoot 'em up, blow 'em up movie where the good guys prevail and the bad guys die.  But like JAWS, which was after all just the story of three men hunting a shark, DIE HARD delivers from first frame to last, not just on action, but on characterization, plotting, foreshadowing, comic relief... everything you need to make a superior thriller.  It doesn't start off with a bang the way many action movies in its wake do.  Rather, DIE HARD builds carefully, from little incidents to deaths by single gunshot to machine gun battles, rocket launchers and exploding buildings. With one or two small exceptions, all the stunts and action sequences are believable - no James Bond surfing his way down an avalanche here. The first time you see DIE HARD, you are blown away by the action. The second and third time, you are still having a great time.  But by the fourth or fifth time, you may start to marvel at how every line, every scene, every but of business is placed together flawlessly to create the ultimate action thriller.  DIE HARD is a two-hour course on how to make an action film.  A masterpiece of the genre, it is perhaps (he said hyperbolically) the best pure entertainment film of the 1980s.

    It is not just Willis, with his wiseguy smirk and mastery of the pre-and-post-kill wisecrack, that makes DIE HARD so entertaining.  He is supported by an entire cast of memorable allies and unforgettable villains.  Alan Rickman, as terrorist Hans Gruber, gives what may be his signature screen performance, certainly on par with the best of the Bond villains ("Mr. Takagi will not be joining us for the rest of his life.") and equal to his villainous work in ROBIN HOOD and the Harry Potter series.  Reginald VelJohnson is also superb as a local cop who stumbles upon the scene of the corporate "takeover" and becomes Willis's only link to the outside world during the crisis.  Every other part in the film is cast just as carefully, from Bonnie Bedelia as McClane's estranged wife to Paul Gleason as the clueless Deputy Police of Chief. 

     DIE HARD is not CITIZEN KANE, THE SEVENTH SEAL or THE SEARCHERS.  But it is as perfect a movie as any of those, and as entertaining today as it was twenty years ago.  Project DIE HARD today in front of a packed audience filled with nothing but people who have seen it five to ten times already, and I guarantee you will still get whoops, screams and laughs at all the right places, and ear-splitting cheers and hollers when it is all over.  It will probably be getting the same reaction 100 years from now. And unlike many other films that inspired multiple sequels, most if not all of the DIE HARD followups are pretty good. 5 - JB

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"But you have me at a loss. You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne?  Rambo?  Marshal Dillon?"
"Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually.  I really dig those sequined shirts. "
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"Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*****."

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