This post is a part of our New Voices Section.
Written by Jerry Saravia.
When Bruce Willis first appeared in 1988’s masterful action film, “Die Hard,” there was little to no hope that Willis could carry an action film. After all, he was no Stallone or Schwarzenegger nor any kind of macho, musclebound hero – he wasn’t even Chuck Norris. Prior to “Die Hard,” he appeared in the wacky “Blind Date” and the shockingly awful “Sunset” with James Garner. Most knew him from TV’s inventive and witty “Moonlighting” but clearly audiences were getting tired of Willis’s smirk and jocose nature. “Die Hard” proved everyone wrong – it is a nail-biting, claustrophobic, suspenseful action picture that uses one designated place – the tall Nakatomi towers – to deliver a highly charged and potent film with a vulnerable action hero who could lose.
Everyone knows Willis is the recalcitrant New York cop, John McClane, who is visiting his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) for Christmas in the West Coast. Holly works for Nakatomi Plaza and has done well for herself and her kids. John has been abandoned, or he may have abandoned them by not living with his family in La-La Land. Before one can say there is trouble in the McClane marriage, a group of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman as one of the suavest villains ever who is critical of business suits) have seized Nakatomi. The reason: Hans wants the 640 million in bearer bonds located in the Nakatomi vault. “What kind of terrorists are you?,” asks the CEO. Geez, this Hans is not truly interested in certain prisoners held in political asylum either. Money is his game.
“Die Hard” has one cleverly designed, thrilling, nerve-wracking sequence after another. If you have a fear of heights, it might be wise to view the film with covered eyes or not at all. Seeing Willis riding on top of elevators that zoom up and down floors, or when he attempts to jump off the building while strapped to a firehose, or when he tries to scale down an elevator shaft are scenes that will leave you breathless with sweaty palms and nervous jitters. “Die Hard” amps up the dire and chaotic situation that John McClane is in by swiftly jumping from one moment of trepidation to another, never losing sight of the hero’s weaknesses or his vulnerability. McClane hurts and bleeds easily and not one person will be less than scared for the guy when his bloodied feet (he is barefoot throughout the movie) slam against a window as he hangs on for dear life.
There are two touching sequences in the film. The first is when McClane tears up and tell his friend, Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) whom he communicates by radio transmitter, that Holly is the best thing that has ever happened to him. And (*SPOILER ALERT) the last scene has McClane meeting Powell for the first time – a bond has been shared that will make most action fans misty-eyed.
Director John McTiernan has assembled all the elements to make one hell of an action masterpiece. All the action scenes and explosions are part of the fabric of the story – they enhance it rather than deter from it. There are many humorous asides including Argyle (De’voreaux White), the limo driver, Willis’s pointed repartee, and I hate to exclude a tense scene where Hans pretends to use an American accent in front of McClane, who has no idea what the terrorist leader looks like. The movie is a revved-up roller-coaster ride that gives us goosebumps, laughs, terror, escapism, rigid and devious villains, and a hero who would make the aforementioned brawny heroes of the 80’s seem infinitesimal by comparison. Nobody has come close to making anything as great an action film as “Die Hard” (and there have been sequels and numerous clones). Forget even Irwin Allen’s “Towering Inferno” – Irwin Allen only wished he made a movie like “Die Hard.”