Die Hard

Dir: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Goudonov

Trash City
Top 50 Film
Elements of this have dated significantly in the twenty years since it came out. Back then, you could take a gun on a plane and smoke in an airport, while gas was less then eighty cents per gallon. Fortunately, none of these are in any way relevant to the story, and everything else remains one of the most-perfect of action-movies. Even after the whole "Die Hard in a [fill in the blank]" genre has been done to death, the original still comes up fresh, new and more entertaining than the entire career of Steven Seagal. And, it has to be said, a good deal better than the three sequels.

The plot is perfectly fitted together, with a storyline so simple that it requires little or no explanation: the Western motif ("yippie-ki-yay" and Roy Rogers) is entirely appropriate, with its story of one man (Willis), alone, against the bad guys. There is no middle ground here: Hans Gruber (Rickman) and his men might as well be wearing black hats. But it's perhaps Rickman who is the fulcrum upon which this film hinges, the greatest in a long line of British actors (whether adopting funny accents or not) in order to play memorable screen villains. What's more remarkable is that, in Die Hard, he and John McClane don't get to confront each other for the first 90 minutes or so, just sneer via walkie-talkie. But it's no less tense for that, as our hero confronts and dispatches minions, using cunning as a force multiplier against vastly superior numbers.

Credit must also be given to Michael Kamen's stirring score, which mixes Beethoven with Christmas standards to stirring effect, and the miniature work on view here is outstanding: the explosion after McClane drops the C4 into the elevator shaft is one of the most impressive in recent action cinema. If the phrase "never a dull moment" referred to any film, this is it, despite the body-count remaining flat-lined at zero for the first 20 minutes. The script is sharp, all the characters - even the minor ones - are genuinely just that, characters, rather than devices for hanging plot points, and it's an absolute classic of the genre, no matter how many times you may have seen it.

[November 2008]

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