Die Hard is a film we all know and love. An adaptation of the Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, this tale of an office Christmas party gone wrong is 131 minutes of pure ’80’s goodness. The film’s use of charming villains, reluctant heroes, and enough action to stretch the duration 40 minutes past the genre’s hour-and-a-half average resulted in a box office hit, a 20-year franchise, and launched its lead, Bruce Willis, into stardom. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget it’s a Christmas film.
We first meet our hero, Detective John McClane (Willis) of the NYPD, upon his arrival in Los Angeles. Six months separated from his wife, Holly, he accepts her invitation to attend the office Christmas party located in Nakatomi Plaza. Being a homicide detective, John is completely out of his element amongst this sea of business people. Clearly from two different worlds, we get a glimpse of the tension that divided the couple’s marriage amidst a brief attempted reconciliation. Holly returns to the party as an upset John makes himself at home just in time to watch the building taken over by terrorists.
It’s in these first 20 minutes, I believe, that the heart of the film lies. John traveled across the country to save his marriage. He spends the rest of the film trying to save his wife. A man who could not be more vulnerable, both literally and figuratively, John befriends a voice over the radio, Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) of the LAPD. The fellow officers find solace in each other, and over the course of the film John reveals to the audience, and even perhaps to himself, how truly miserable he’s been without his wife and children.
Of course, this film is not to be confused with a drama. Not only is this an action film, it’s one of the best. Released at a time where one had to be a heavyweight to be an action star, Bruce Willis’ “everyman” appearance makes John McClane a perfect surrogate for an audience that likes to engage with the story. The action is so large and plentiful that it can be overwhelming in the best possibly way. I dare you to watch this film and feel disappointed.
It would be a shame to speak of Die Hard in any form without mentioning the villain of the piece. Prior to Christoph Waltz’s performance in Inglourious Basterds, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber was cinema’s most charming German terrorist. I’m still amazed at how well English actors can handle accents. In this film, Rickman delivers not only a convincing German accent, but in once scene an American accent as well.
In closing, Die Hard is many things. An action film, a comedy, a Christmas film, and a thriller. I see a film about a broken, lonely man desperately trying to piece his life back together.
With guns and explosions.