With the news that a sixth outing for Bruce Willis’s long-suffering vest is on the cards, Gabby Hutchinson Crouch needed little excuse to revisit the original. For her, it’s like Christmas arriving two months early…
What and why: I’ll start off with the confession that before I sat down to ‘revisit’ Die Hard, I already knew what my conclusion would be. Die Hard, you see is my and my husband’s Christmas Movie, and a necessary part of our annual festivities, along with the two definitive retellings of A Christmas Carol (Blackadder and Muppets).
I have, therefore, watched it a LOT since its late 80s release (according to IMDb, it came out in July 1988 in the States and February 1989 over here, managing to miss Christmas by spectacular margins both times, despite being The Greatest Christmas Story Ever Told).
If you’ve never been told the story that is the true meaning of Christmas, here’s a recap: Once there was a cop named John McClane, who had to take a long journey to Los Angeles because his wife was going to have an incredibly high-flying career in architecture or corporate law or something… I’m not really sure what the Nakatomi corporation actually does, but whatever it is, it’s big-shouldered, late-80s power-suited businessmanning.
“Some of the side characters, particularly those in positions of authority, are written as such flimsily two-dimensional arrogant incompetents that it’s amazing they don’t float away in a slight breeze.”
Anyway, John’s wife Holly has been juggling parenting their kids in LA and earning 10 times as much as him while he’s stayed in New York and sulked because apparently there’s no such thing as a Police Department that he can transfer to in LA. Their marriage has, inevitably, ground to a halt. There’s something very late 80s/early 90s about ‘my wife has a better job than me and I find compromise inconvenient’ as a source of White Male Protagonist ManPain, although it’s a damn sight less tedious than the current movie ManPain trope of ‘My wife/mother/daughter died halfway through the first act but luckily the violence towards her should make me more motivated and interesting.’
McClane goes to Holly’s office Christmas party, where he strips to his vest and trousers, takes off his shoes and socks because he’s paranoid about post-flight DVT and complains at her. Luckily, that’s when some Germans, sporting a beautiful array of late-80s hairdos, crash the party, put the office block into lockdown and start shooting people, causing McClane to transform himself from barefooted butthurt whingebag into a barefooted sneak-attacking, lift shaft-exploding, fire hose-destroying badass.
Rated or dated: It’s such a simple premise. A gang of baddies, a group of hostages and a single outgunned, out-equipped hero, none of whom can get out of the building, and a slowly growing but ultimately useless cavalry outside who can’t get in.
Some of the side characters, particularly those in positions of authority, are written as such flimsily two-dimensional arrogant incompetents that it’s amazing they don’t float away in a slight breeze. It’s unsubtly grounding McClane as the only man who can possibly save the Yuppies’ Christmas, but it’s fine.
And after all the set-up about McClane and Holly, the real romance of the film seems to centre around his relationship with the one broken, honest-joe cop who believes in him, Al. Al, the cop who’s all washed up after some darned kid annoyingly got killed when he shot him. Al, who McClane doesn’t even clap eyes on until the end, across a crowded plaza of death. Al, the Jason to his Kylie. Al, who learns to love shooting people in the head again before the credits roll. Ah, Christmas.
I can’t talk about Die Hard without mentioning Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, the cold-hearted terrorist (except, SURPRISINGLY EARLY PLOT TWIST, he’s actually just a thief). Rickman lights up every scene he’s in – obviously, he’s Alan Rickman. Die Hard’s full of incredibly tense moments, and one of the greatest of these is the scene where Gruber and McClane finally meet face to face. I am also a big fan of his Faux Terrorist gang, especially Evil Geordi LaForge and The German Frasier & Niles Crane. The moment where they’re winning and we hear Ode To Joy mixed in with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen warms my cockles. You go, you evil Germans! Buy yourselves something pretty!
Is it rated or dated? Despite some very one-dimensional side characters, it’s definitely rated. While it’s very of its time, with its daft yuppies, Michael Bolton hair and the offer of a “nice aged brie” as a seduction attempt, it’s simple, tense, satisfying, full of fun and Christmas cheer.5117 Views
Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.