This week’s Monday Pick is the John McTiernan holiday action classic Die Hard. It stars Bruce Willis as tough New York cop John McClane who arrives in Los Angeles during the Christmas holidays to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) who works as an executive with the Nakatomi corporation.
As McClane and his wife try to patch up their troubled marriage, the Christmas party is crashed by a group of thieves demanding that the CEO of the company open the vault which houses over six hundred and forty million dollars in barrow bonds. Alone and outgunned, McClane maneuvers through the building bumping off as many terrorists as he can while he tries to find out what their real plans are.
Die Hard has always been the quintessential action classic yet it is also a Christmas film. The film was Bruce Willis’s breakout role which solidified him as a new breed of action hero. The real star of the film, though, is Alan Rickman who portrays the lead terrorist Hans Gruber. Gruber was a member of a radical West German terrorist group who goes rogue and assembles a crack team of men to help carry out the heist.
McTiernan’s direction is masterful and the movie never lulls. It is filled with some of the most impressive stunts, camera work, and Michael Kamen’s score is fantastic. The cat & mouse scenario is perfectly executed as McClane tries to evade the terrorist’s every attempt to try and find and kill him. When McClane kills one of the terrorists and steals his bag of equipment, Gruber and his men must alter their plans because McClane steals a significant amount of explosives and the detonator required to activate them.
One by one, McClane out smarts the henchmen and the Los Angeles police arrive on the scene to storm the building and free the thirty or so hostages (including McClane’s wife) who are being held on the thirtieth floor of the building.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when McClane is trapped in between several of the floors above where the hostages are being held. The terrorist’s tech savvy expert Theo (Clarence Gilyard) cuts off communications and shuts off the elevators to restrict McClane’s movement throughout the building. As McClane dangles down an elevator shaft into the ventilation system, he crawls through the vents in order to gain access to the floors below. Responding to an alarm signal set by McClane in order to bring in the police, Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is on his way home when he is ordered by dispatch to check out the report of gunfire and possible hostages.
Trying to get Powell’s attention from many floors above, McClane smashes an office window in order to signal Powell. The terrorists respond to the room and McClane has a gunfight with two terrorists. He kills one of them and the other corners McClane under a conference table shooting at him through the table. Confident in his murdering capabilities, the terrorist says to McClane “The next time you have the chance to kill someone, don’t hesitate.” McClane fires his Beretta pistol unloading the magazine through the table and kills Marco (Lorenzo Caccialanza). McClane responds with “Thanks for the advice.”
Fooled by the security guard Eddie (Dennis Hayden) one of Hans’s men, Powell decides it’s a false alarm. As he gets back into his squad car to leave, McClane hurdles Marco’s corpse from the window and it lands on Powell’s car, which cause him to scream out in terror. Powell reverses the car in a panic and the terrorists open fire on his squad car. McClane yells from the window “Welcome to the party pal.”
It is one of the best action scenes in the whole film and it is also filled with lots of humor such as the split second shot of Argyle (De’Voreaux White) who plays McClane’s limo driver who is trapped in the parking garage waiting for McClane to call him in case his wife doesn’t allow him to stay with her and the family for Christmas.
One of the second best scenes in the film is when Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason) orders a SWAT team unit to assault the building. Powell suggests that it’s a risky idea and that they should wait for further information from McClane who has contacted them with a stolen radio and is giving them crucial information about the terrorists and their plot.
Hans’s men ambush the SWAT team. The SWAT team commander orders and armored car to provide cover for the team to be extracted. Two of the terrorists set up a portable rocket unit from one of the windows facing the street where the armored car is approaching. The terrorists take out the car and the SWAT team is badly wounded. McClane pleads with Hans to let them pull back and Hans refuses.
McClane rigs a series of C-4 plastic explosives to a computer chair and secures them with a monitor, which he throws down an elevator shaft. The C-4 explodes killing the two terrorists and sends a fireball up the elevator shaft that almost kills McClane. The explosion rocks the building and one of the terrorists believes the police are using artillery on them. Hans replies “You idiot it’s not the police. It’s him.” That sequence was nominated for an Academy Award that year for best visual effects.
Die Hard was an instant smash hit at the box office in the summer of 1988 and went on to gross more than a hundred and thirty-eight million dollars in the U.S. alone. It would spawn three more sequels with rumors of a fifth installment in the works. In 2007 Bruce Willis donated his signature stained undershirt from the film to the National Museum of American History located within the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
Die Hard is available on DVD and Blu-Ray Disc through Twentieth Century Fox Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.