Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, Bonnie Bedelia
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 93
New York policeman John McClane attempts to stop terrorists in a skyscraper.
Die Hard could easily be a case study on how to make an outstanding action movie. It excels in nearly every category. It builds around a good story with a solid script, great casting, powerful acting from the star, and tight action scenes. It sticks to its premise, has great acceleration, and finishes with a bang. There are occasional minor weaknesses, but they in no way overshadow the brilliance in this movie. I proudly present Die Hard with a Kaboom Review Gold Explosion Award.
Die Hard shows how execution in an action movie is more important than plot. The film’s story drives a straight and simple line. Terrorists take over a skyscraper and hold thirty people hostage in an attempt to make off with all the loot in the building’s safe. John McClane, who is visiting his wife at the party, manages to avoid detection when the terrorists enter. He then tries his best to stop them. With a story so basic, this movie could have easily tanked. But the pace, attention to premise, acting, casting, and script all make this movie a joy to watch. There is so much to like here.
Die Hard quickly establishes a premise and sticks to it. Bruce Willis, who plays the lead role as policeman John McClane, is given a reasonable dose of Hollywood leeway to dodge bullets, sustain brutal injury, and perform amazing stunts, but the movie stays meticulously consistent in this regard, and never did I feel like they broke the established premise of the movie.
Another wonderful element of the movie is the villains’ relative intelligence. With few exceptions, the villains behave rationally and think intelligently. More movies should follow Die Hard’s example in this regard. What we end up with is an incredible balance of tension and action as McClane and the terrorists play a deadly game of move and counter-move. One moment McClane has the upper hand, the next the advantage swings back to the terrorists. Admittedly, there are a couple of spots where the terrorists sneak up on McClane from behind instead of just blowing him away, which is a bit stupid considering how just minutes before they were trying to kill him from fifty feet away. Also, one would think that the supposedly brilliant terrorists, who have an open line of communication with McClane, would start killing hostages unless he gave them back their detonators or turned himself in. These elements aside, I’m hard pressed to recall a movie that manages such tight, seesaw action.
The pace, action, stunts, and explosions add a lot to the movie. The pace starts out slow; the first 15 minutes builds up background to the story. From that point on the movie accelerates wonderfully. There are only a couple of scenes where things bog down a bit in the middle. Action is outstanding. There is some gritty, bloody combat in the skyscraper. Parts of the building explode with impressive effect, especially considering this movie was made in 1988. It’s actually a strong testament to the quality of the film that it stands the test of time so well. Stunts are dramatic, and nicely tied to the plot.
Supporting all this action is a great cast, some above average acting, and a script complex enough to allow a head nod to character development yet not cripple the pace. Bruce Willis is perfectly cast as John McClane. He builds his character with dry wit, sarcasm, and a blue-collar mentality. As he gets the stuffing beat of him over the course of the movie, his convincing acting gives the story an edge of believability. He is instantly likeable and easy to relate to. With Willis as the lead, it’s easy to see why this film did so well. He gets acceptable support from Reginald VelJohnson, as a Los Angeles cop, and Bonnie Bedelia, as his wife. On the villain side, Alan Rickman does a average job as Hans Gruber, the head terrorist. He comes off well as a brilliant and callous terrorist, but I felt he didn’t bring enough raw energy in his role. He seemed flat at times. His terrorist minions, by contrast, do a solid job in displaying general nastiness.
As for our babes and hunks categories, Die Hard couldn’t be bothered. Bonnie Bedelia is a pretty face, but her role is minor and for much of the movie she simply sits and makes an occasional comment. There is one minor office scene where a beautiful women comes running half naked out of an office, but otherwise, Die Hard bombs this category. It does better in the hunk category. Wills is at his peak here; his charm, looks, and physical presence give the film a solid hunk rating.
In conclusion, Die Hard could easily be a case study on how to make an outstanding action movie. It excels in nearly every category. It builds around a good story with a solid script, great casting, powerful acting from the star, and tight action scenes. It sticks to its premise, has great acceleration, and finishes with a bang. There are occasional minor weaknesses, but they in no way overshadow the brilliance in this movie. I proudly present Die Hard with a Kaboom Review Gold Explosion Award.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Gere were all offered the role of John McClane before Bruce Willis accepted it.
Consistent Premise: 88
Body Count: 38
Time to First Dead Body: 18 minutes
Special Effects: 18
Overall: 93 (Gold Explosion Award)