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Blogvent Day 1 – Die Hard (1988,USA)

01/12/2011

Director: John McTiernan        Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson

Ahhh, Christmas. A time for families, a time for togetherness, the putting aside of grudges and the season of giving, sharing and goodwill. Oh yeah, and fighting terrorists in a vest. John McTiernan’s seminal 1988 action opus, a film so influential it created one of the greatest pitching short codes in cinema (“It’s ‘Die Hard’ on a boat/submarine/plane/hospital/whatever!”) and forever cemented Bruce Willis as the everyman hero fighting the bad guys with little more than a vest and a penchant for cheeky one liners, has it all.

John McClane (Willis) is a New York cop who arrives in L.A. for an attempt at reconciliation with his estranged wife Holly (Bedelia) who has moved out West to further her high flying business career. He arrives at her office party just in time to get caught up in the middle of a hostage situation when the villainous Hans Gruber (Rickman on fine, camp Euro-villain form) and his motley crew of terrorists storm the high rise office building where Holly works. Outnumbered and most certainly outgunned, McClane has to rely on his New York street smarts and a whole lot of luck to thwart the terrorist’s plot.

So how is this in any way Christmassy? Well. There’s the amazing soundtrack for one thing, ranging from Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” to Beethoven and Bach by way of Vaughn Monroe’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”. Then there’s the Christmas party setting, which provides suitable trappings for McClane’s misadventures. Most importantly though is the fact that the plot revolves around that Christmas staple of forgiveness and redemption, John and his wife realising what is most important to them and how much they love each other as a direct result of their ordeal. It’s a character arc in a Dickensian mode – John’s stubborn refusal to accept the success of his wife’s ruanway career the equivalent of Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas, Gruber’s plan a rough parallel to the other wordly visitations that force him to face up to his flaws.

The fact that it also features some of the best action set pieces in cinema history with some great technical effects (including but not limited to a truly phenomenal explosion and one the best “falling from a building” shots I can recall seeing) is an added bonus. McTiernan’s eye for action is excellent. Shootouts, fist fights, explosives and massive collateral damage are all delivered in wild style, increasing in intensity as the terrorists grow increasingly desperate and McClane finds himself pursued more relentlessly at every turn. They’re all also delivered with imaginative, humourous touches that lift the film above the average shoot ’em up action fare. Willis delivers some cracking dialogue as he caps off the bad guys, his cheeky delivery reminiscent of Moonlighting (the series was still running at the time Die Hard was made) and Rickman is the perfect foil, his cooly intellectual sadism giving way to more frantic antics as he becomes increasingly frustrated by his plans being thwarted. By the time you throw the comic relief L.A.P.D and F.B.I. agents doing their Keystone Cops bit in their attempts to contain/deal with the situation from the outside and you have a film that is not only an adrenaline pumping action classic but hilarious with it.

If, for some reason, you have managed to live your life without ever seeing Die Hard I urge you to give it a go this Christmas. Feeling surprisingly festive given the subject matter it’s vital viewing and if you have seen it before, then the holiday season is the perfect excuse to give it another look.

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