Written by: Jeb Stuart & Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time comes with a level of unluckiness you cannot believe. In Die Hard, the lack of luck appears at its height, as a cop finds himself in a situation where he needs to save a building full of people, but has to do it barefooted. Talk about finding oneself unprepared for the circumstances life hurls at you. Even with these obstacles, this film proves to justify its reputation as one of, if not, the greatest action films ever made.
Visiting his wife and kids for the holidays, John McClane (Bruce Willis) flies from New York to Los Angeles. He arrives at his wife’s workplace where she’s partaking in the annual Christmas party. Suddenly, a group of armed terrorists take over the building and keep Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and her coworkers hostage, which leaves John as the only person able to rescue them, while being heavily disadvantaged.
Debating the quality of Die Hard is more clear cut than the argument of whether or not it should be considered a Christmas movie. Sure, it takes place during the holiday era, but does it really embody the spirit of the time? I’m not here to argue about it, but to share the good news of the greatness of this film. The explosions and the actions sequences contribute but do not define what makes this film work, because it comes from the characterizations of these characters and John McClane in particular. The introduction to this character begins with him exhibiting fear, which is major considering the tough guy persona he likes to purport. He’s on the plane to Los Angeles and displays his nervousness of flying to which he gets advice from a fellow passenger about how to find some relief.
Uncovering more shows the relationship he has with his wife and why they live on two separate coasts, but just when they have the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions is when the terrorists arrive. Led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), they quickly seize everyone except McClane, who sees it coming and finds cover in order to attack later. Unfortunately, he forgot to put his shoes back on from freshening up. This leaves McClane in a position where he must take on a dozen heavily-armed men with a mere pistol and no way to contact the police. An engaging premise and one that works because of its simplicity and McClane representing the everyman. A mistake the sequels fail to avoid, the success of Die Hard comes from the sheer unluckiness of him being in the building when this occurs and having to figure out his way out of it. His experience as a cop gives him practice utilizing firearms and dealing with culprits like Hans, but he has every disadvantage possible in this circumstance. McClane does not have everything under control and his humanity and vulnerability shows itself when trying to discover what he needs to do next with limited knowledge and resources at his disposal.
The confined nature of this story allows for more developmentof John McClane as a person and how he navigates this impossible circumstance. Even with this being a huge building, everything gets confined between a few floors and a couple of scenes up on the roof. At any turn, McClane can run into Han’s goons and he needs to act quickly to get support because police support will be difficult to get. It’s just him, with a pistol, no shoes, and a mean attitude to take on these mysterious men. The demeanor of McClane makes him such a likable character to follow throughout this whole ordeal. He does not take flack from anyone, which becomes incredibly satisfying when the police do arrive and a certain high-ranking officer attempts to give him a lip about how he’s trying to survive in the building. Several moments show McClane showing off his knowledge and giving arrogant characters a rude awakening when displaying how little he cares about their opinion.
When Bruce Willis cares to put in a good performance, he certainly knows how to give one and this will forever remain his defining role. He embodies this everyman look and demeanor, which helps sell McClane as someone with skills but not refined like many other action characters in film canon. Foul-mouthed and fairly sloppy in his tactics, he does not do everything perfectly, because he barely has any time to react to everything going on. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber has been classified as one of the great movie villains in all of film. While I think this level of praise may be a bit much, as the character does not hold many complexities, the performance of Rickman cannot be denied. He gives off this focused approach of getting things done, while also showing his smarts in predicting everything law enforcement will do to help them in an effort to do the opposite.
Call it a Christmas movie or not, Die Hard tells a confined story about a man trying to overcome an insurmountable challenge with every possible disadvantage to go along with it. A true underdog story with an extremely likable person to follow along for the ride. Several other characters contribute with their ridiculousness and it all culminates into a thoroughly entertaining film.