Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lightning Across the Pond: Die Hard

And we're back, once again we welcome the knowledgeable and affable Tom Jolliffe as he takes us to number 19 of his personal 20 favorite films, with DIE HARD.

Tom writes:
Continuing my top 20 movies, at number 19 is probably the greatest all out action flick out there. It is of course Die Hard. Die Hard has a level of awesomeness about it that few action flicks ever come close to capturing. It’s quite simply the text book by which good action films should be written around. It’s got all the elements in it, that make a top quality guns n' ammo ruckus. Namely, cool action hero, awesome badguy (with awesome bad guy crew) and it’s also got great action scenes. However what sets Die Hard apart from most other action classics, is the fact that above all else, it’s just a really clever film. The plot is fairly simple, Han’s Gruber takes control of the Nakatomi Plaza, keeping the office Christmas party folk hostage (No mince pies for that man!), while he and his boys break into the vault using the hostages as a diversion. John McClane is of course the best example of the wrong place, wrong time, action man that there’ll ever be, and it’s down to him to stop them.

What makes it genius though is so many clever touches littered throughout the script. There are so many seemingly incidental moments that later on reveal themselves to be important elements in the films plot. For example our introduction to our action hero sees Maclane being given relaxation tips from a fellow airline passenger. The tip involves McClane taking his shoes off so he can curl his toes on the carpet. It sounds meaningless but it’s an awesome use of an incidental moment as when the building is taken over, McClane is thrust into immediate action, forgetting to put his shoes back on. This leads on to the infamous “shoot the glass!” action scene later on.
The film is loaded with great moments like this (the importance of Holly Genero/McClane’s brand new xmas gift watch is another example). As well as the intelligence within the script, the film is also darn funny. It’s not a comedy, it’s not trying to be, but it’s got some great, clever, comedy. It’s funny without even really trying, in the same way as films like Superman and Back To The Future. The Agent Johnson gag is classic, as is the moment when Al Leong (henchman to the action bad guy masses) raids the candy stall while waiting to commence a shootout. All this and we also have McClane at the centre of the film, who lets fly with all manner of zingers and brilliantly funny incidental actions (acknowledging a nudie poster at an inopportune moment).
The cast in this piece of excellence is spot on. Bruce Willis almost instantly became the coolest everyman action star with this flick. McClane is character gold, and Willis brings him to life brilliantly. He does it so superbly throughout the series of Die Hard films, but not more so than in the first, and by a stratosphere, the best. The ultimate action hero thus needs a suitably and worthy counterpart, and that is exactly what we get with Gruber. Alan Rickman brings Gruber to life. He’s intelligent, ruthless and in complete control. Gruber is a sociopath, but at the same time he is totally, completely, sane. There aren’t any screws missing with Gruber, which make him a whole new level of adversary in this sort of film. Gruber knows exactly what he’s doing, and how to do it. That’s what makes him scary. Rickman is great, and invented the super-smart, suited, euro baddie template. Gruber is aided by Karl one of the best bad guy henchmen ever. Elsewhere the film has the best un-met partner (Powell) the best smarmy weasel character (Ellis) and the best incompetent chief (Dwayne T. Robinson) ever.
John McTiernan prior to this had done the guntastic, bicep-fest, Predator. Die Hard truly cemented him as one of the great action specialists of the 80’s. Under McTiernan’s watchful eye, Die Hard remains tight, slick and the action scenes are exceptional. Set piece after set piece, the film delivers, while McTiernans free reign, regarding Willis’ adlibbing, pays off dividends. The film looks great, it sounds great, the setting is a masterstroke, and the whole package is given atmosphere thanks to it’s soundtrack, and Michael Kamen’s score. Elsewhere the editing, the beats, are perfection.
Overall Die Hard remains a classic. It’s one of the most re-watchable films out there, with little nuggets always being picked up with each revisit. It remains a brilliant cohesion of action,
intelligence, humour and character which few films have ever managed to emulate since. Many have copied from and aspired to be Die Hard, but all have failed. It’s simply a one off for this genre. Dagnabbit I’m off to watch it again! I’ll be back soon with number 18 in countdown.