Die Hard (1988) Review

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Die Hard

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence and offensive language
Cast:
Bruce Willis as John McClane
Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber
Alexander Godunov as Karl
Bonnie Bedelia as Holly Gennero-McClane
Director: John McTiernan

Hoping to spend Christmas with his estranged wife, detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in LA. However, he learns about a hostage situation in an office building and his wife is one of the hostages.

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Die Hard is considered one of the greatest action films of all time for very good reason. It is a simple yet effective, and works as well as it does because each of its elements have been so perfectly handled.

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First of all, I won’t weigh into the argument or debate about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but I will say that it works as either. Something that was so impressive about the movie was the script. Like a lot of other classic 80s action movies, it does have some very memorable dialogue and one liners, but it is also just structurally very well put together. There’s nothing much complex about the movie, it’s very simple. However it is very well written and has a tight and well paced story, that gradually escalates over time. It draws you in with the simple premise and keeps the momentum throughout the entire run of the movie. There’s a lot of time for build up, character development, and gradual increasing of tension and action. Every plot point in the film is set up in a natural way, and every one of these setups does have their satisfying payoffs. It is also a very contained and relatively small scale movie despite being an iconic action movie. There are large action scenes, some of which contain some explosions, but most of the film is claustrophobic and suspenseful.

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The acting is also really good. One of the key aspects that makes Die Hard work as well as it does is the character of John McClane. McClane is very much a regular person caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s very much not invincible here, each of his fights and encounters aren’t easy, most of the time he barely survives. He completely wings it every time and is just improvising as he’s going along. He’s also not a perfect person, he is flawed and combining this with his personality makes him relatable and likable as a protagonist. McClane however wouldn’t have worked without Bruce Willis. His casting at the time was no doubt unusual given that he was mainly known for comedy at the time, but he fits perfectly well in here. He was far from the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones in the 80s and was a different kind of action hero. Willis even nails talking to himself during challenging moments in a way that actually feels natural. It’s easy to see how this character made such an impact on future protagonists in movies, especially with how action heroes leads would be written and portrayed. Alan Rickman is equally as iconic as Hans Gruber, the main villain of the movie as the leader of a group of bank robbers. Despite the group of villains on the whole being rather average, Rickman overcomes this and more than holds his own against Bruce Willis, becoming a perfect counterpart to McClane despite not sharing many scenes with him. As Gruber, he’s menacing, charming and very intelligent, proving to be a difficult obstacle over the course of the movie. Definitely one of the most iconic movie villains, especially in the action genre. There are also other entertaining secondary characters who are also played well, including Bonnie Bedelia and Reginald VelJohnson.

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Another key element of Die Hard working as well as it does is John McTiernan’s impeccable direction. First of all, the setting of a large hotel is grand and claustrophobic all at once, providing a great background for the movie and action to take place inside. It is beautifully shot, and the lighting and camera movements are amazing. The action is fantastic too, tense and gripping, and well edited. McTiernan really knows how to build a lot of tension and suspense. Even the special effects are ageless, and for an 80s action movie that’s saying a lot.

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Die Hard is an incredibly important movie of the action genre, as well as movies in general, it’s actually hard to talk about it. Every time I come back to this movie it somehow ends up being better than the last time I watched it. If you’ve never seen the first Die Hard, it is definitely well worth a watch.

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