Die Hard (United States, 1988)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Die Hard represents the class of modern action pictures and the standard by which they must be judged. Few films falling into the "mindless entertainment" genre have as much going for them as this movie. Not only is it a thrill-a-minute ride, but it has one of the best film villains in recent memory, a hero everyone can relate to, dialogue that crackles with wit, and a lot of very impressive pyrotechnics.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) had intended to spend a nice, quiet Christmas with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and children, ironing out his marital problems and trying to resolve the situation that has him working in New York City as a cop while her career keeps her in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for John, a group of terrorists, led by the suave Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), has other ideas. After taking over the high rise Nakatomi Tower and holding the attendees of the Christmas party (including Holly) hostage, they begin the time-consuming and complex procedure of breaking into the building's vault. However, one thing -- perhaps the only thing -- that Hans didn't plan on was John McClane, the self-professed "fly in the ointment," who is on the loose inside, and whose goals are in direct contradiction with those of the terrorists.

With Die Hard, director John McTiernan (Predator) has given us a modern action classic -- a movie that doesn't slow down until the end credits are rolling to the tune of "Let It Snow." McTiernan is a master of pacing, and on those few occasions when the script lets him down, the camerawork of Jan De Bont comes to the rescue. This film is explosive in more ways than one -- a lavish, noisy extravaganza that gets the adrenaline flowing.

Bruce Willis is perfect as the wisecracking John McClane, an "everyday" sort of guy who gets caught up in circumstances that force him to play the reluctant hero. This is a person that we can root for, even when some of the things he's doing are humanly impossible. Willis' acting skills are limited (although he did fine work playing a Vietnam Vet in In Country), but it's hard to imagine anyone else in this role.

Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber redefines the action genre villain. The man's charm lies in that volatile mixture of violence and cunning, all sheathed in a gentlemanly civility. Hans is intelligent, and Rickman plays the part with not only a sense of the man he's portraying, but an obvious respect for him as well. It doesn't take many minutes of screen time for us to be aware that Hans is no ordinary terrorist.

The supporting cast gives solid performances, even though there aren't talent-stretching roles to be filled. Bonnie Bedelia (as the wife in danger) and Reginald Veljohnson (as McClane's cop-on-the-outside-contact) are noteworthy. William Atherton is suitably slimy in a small role as a tabloid journalist.

Whether Bruce Willis is climbing up an elevator shaft, throwing himself off an exploding building, or racing barefoot across a flood littered with glass shards, his John McClane holds our attention while we hold our breaths. Die Hard isn't motion picture poetry, but it shows the kind of raucous entertainment that the industry is capable of delivering. For what it is, this is the top model -- flash, bang, and witty one-liners all included. Yippee kiyay!

Die Hard (United States, 1988)

Ranked #60 in Berardinelli's Top 100
Run Time: 2:11
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1