Home Year 1988 Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard (1988)

The ducts at Nakatomi were a top holiday destination.
The ducts at Nakatomi were a top holiday destination.

Twitter Plot Summary: Alan Rickman locks down Nakatomi Plaza to steal $640 million in bearer bonds. What he hadn’t expected was John McClane.

Five Point Summary:

1. Make balls with your feet.
2. The man himself – Alan Rickman. And his beard.
3. Johnson and Johnson.
4. Shoot the glass! 
5. Alan Rickman plummets!

Despite what many people may think, Die Hard remains a quintessential Christmas movie, yet also remains viewable at any point throughout the year. Such is its impact, it spawned an entire action sub-genre that has culminated in two films being released in 2013 that for better or for worse used the “Die Hard in the White House” template. Before I get into the review properly, let me just say how nice it is to see an action film which has a logical structure and has been written in such a way that almost all of the narrative threads introduced are resolved by the end credits. it doesn’t happen nearly often enough, and later entries in the Die Hard series fail to live up to this expectation.

It’s Christmas and there’s a party on at the Nakatomi Plaza. John McClane is in town to make amends with his estranged wife who works for the company. Before they can resolve their argument, however, the building is locked down by Hans Gruber and his band of mercenaries, locking down the building and taking everyone inside hostage. Everyone except John McClane, naturally, who makes his escape in his now trademark white vest. As the police stand arround, impotent, outside, McClane is the only one who sees what the real plan is, and it’s up to him and him alone to stop Gruber and his minions before they can make their escape. It’s a classic slasher setup disguised as an action film, although with a full if slightly silly story attached to it as McClane takes down the bad guys one at a time.

Hans Gruber remains one of cinema’s quintessential bad guys, played with epic levels of evil charm by Alan Rickman. Let’s ignore the fact that this is yet another case where a Brit plays the bad guy. It’s almost impossible to tell that this is his first major film appearance, to the point where he’s perhaps one of the all time iconic sreen villains. Bruce Willis kicked off an action career as John McClane, a man who, ever so slowly over the course of five films (to date) has lost his bite and his ability to swear. In any case, that’s a point for a later review. For this film at least, McClane is a quintessential action hero, the everyman cop placed into a situation that defies credulity. Bonnie Bedelia doesn’t have a great amount to do as John’s wife Holly, but does at least represent a woman who is good at her job.

Evil charm personified.
Evil charm personified.

Her presence does also create a certain tension seeing as we know her husband is the one causing all the problems for Gruber and his men, and there’s the constant worry that she will be discovered at any moment. This situation is not helped by fellow employee Ellis, a cut-price Alan Rickman if you will. His cocaine addiction aside, Ellis is also a smarmy, self-centred jerk and acts as a counterpoint to both McClane and Gruber. Other than Karl, the minion who looks like he should be in a power metal band, and Theo, the computer expert tasked with breaking through Nakatomi’s security, the remaining goons are defined solely by the description that they’re German. And let’s not forget Argyle, the young limo driver who picks up McClane from the airport early on and spends the majority of the film sat in the car park with a huge stuffed teddy bear.

As an action film you’d expect Die Hard to throw a few exciting set pieces your way, and it delivers in this respect quite substantially. There are that many dotted around the film that it’s difficult to single out any as they’re all well presented and exciting. The attempts to get inside the building, both with the SWAT team and when FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation) make their assault, are expertly set up by John McTiernan and are edited for maximum impact. Even in the brief moments of introspection, particularly where McClane and new best friend Al “I shot a kid” Powell have a discussion whilst McClane deals with a nasty glass-related problem, the story is still pushing forward and the scene serves to set up the final act.

Okay, so there are a couple of bits that don’t add up (Karl emerging from the rubble, for example), but it works within the concept of the film simply because it entertains the audience. On that note it’s an incredibly quotable film, filled with one liners that can be used in a multitude of everyday situations. Throw in the obligatory explosive action sequences and you have a film that never fails to entertain, no matter how many times you’ve seen it previously. Yippee-ki-yay and all that.

Is there an Alan Rickman-style plummet?: Well yeah, this is the film that spawned it!

Score: 5/5

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