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Die Hard

Review Written by: Bill Slocum
Film: A

Directed by: John McTierman
Written by: Jeb Stuart and Steven de Souza
Based on the book by: Roderick Thorp
Produced by: Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald Veljohnson, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Sure he shoots people and blows things up, but there is only one moment in Die Hard where smooth criminal Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) loses his cool: When a woman realizes what he is up to and tells him he is nothing but a "common thief." "I am an exceptional thief," Hans says after vaulting a desk to get in her face. "And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite." "Die Hard" likewise may be just an action film, but it is an exceptional action film, an entry in an already overcrowded field of cinematic bloodbaths that dared to be more than a little clever and insightful about the human condition even as it upped the ante on the on screen violence.

Hans and his Euro-goons help matters considerably, by projecting real personality along with the menace. You understand their motivations, enjoy their humor, and still relish their comeuppance at the hands of a New York City cop played by Bruce Willis who finds himself alone against the bad guys in a Los Angeles skyscraper. Willis became a movie star from his performance here as John McClane and it is very good. Willis projects his usual smugness, but manages to ingratiate himself to the audience early on in a key scene with his limo driver, Argyle, who presses him on what he's doing in L.A. if he's from New York. McClane says he's here to see his wife who works there and alludes to some trouble in their marriage, saying he couldn't also move to LA because of his responsibilities to the NYPD. Argyle won't let up. "You mean you thought she'd come running back before you packed your bags," he laughs. McClane winces, but smiles. "You're very quick, Argyle." It's not a major moment, but it points up a key strength of this film. Everyone in it matters. Whether it's Argyle, McClane, Hans, a cop doing what is supposed to be a routine drive-by, a cokeheaded businessman, or a gunman with a sweettooth, the brilliant script by Jeb Stuart and Steven de Souza and deft direction by John McTiernan gives everyone a certain weight and presence that adds to the proceedings.

For most of the film, McClane doesn't have Argyle to talk to, so he talks to the audience instead, in a series of monologues made believable by the pressure he is under (he seems to be in the habit of talking to himself anyway) that give McClane a humanity and humor unique for action films. "Now I know what a TV dinner feels like," he says when crammed in a vent shaft. It's not that his one-liners are so clever, but that they come at the right times. Willis crafts a hero viewers can relate to, which makes his heroics more satisfying. The film also succeeds as a straightforward caper film, since the caper itself is intelligently designed and presented in such a way we sense we know where everyone of Hans' dozen underlings are at every given moment, even when the camera isn't on them. Also, the action scenes are incredibly well-done, grittier than anything else on screen at the time yet still entertaining.

Okay, the picture is too glib at times, and shows Willis' hunkitude off more than I care to see. The phony business with the walkie-talkie chatter (you can't cut in on other people's transmissions the way everyone does here) is annoying and the business with the TV reporter should have been left on the cutting room floor. But Die Hard is a film every bit as brilliant now as when it came out, influential, never equaled and incredibly fun. Rickman is a great villain. And what can you say about a musical score that encompasses Vaughn Monroe, Run-DMC, Ludwig van Beethoven and Christmas music? This is a film that leaves nothing out in its ambition to entertain and succeeds wonderfully.

Terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) holds Holly Genero (Bonnie Bedelia) hostage in Die Hard.
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