Action Heroes – Willis: Die Hard

Now I will admit to several things in this Action hero retrospective. Van Damme is my ultimate guilty pleasure, Arnold is just king of the box office jungle, Sly is the one and only original who I will always have a soft spot for – but it is Bruce Willis who I formed the biggest attachment to when growing up.

Why?  Well Sly and Arnold were already established, so I came to them a few films late. Bruce was the new guy on the block when Die Hard swung around. He was also not the brick shithouse that the other two were. And he was playing an everyman who groaned and sighed, had a fear of flying and ended up running around in a vest and bare feet for the better part of the movie. He wasn’t playing some Viking god conqueror, or a robot from the future, or a supercop who broke the rules to satisfy their own need for justice. So the impact this new guy had on me was quite large when Die Hard came around onto video.

Around this time – video stores in the UK sometimes had preview tapes that they loaned out with rentals. These tapes consisted of either trailers of upcoming files, reviews by someone who clearly wanted to do something else with their career than review videos (Hello Mariella Frostrup!), and sometimes you got a tape that had a 15-20 minute featurette looking behind the scenes.  This was my gateway to the world of Die Hard. Watching 9what now looks like shoddy publicity material) of shots of on set, talking head interviews and clips from the actual action from the film (Fire shooting up elevator shafts, Willis shooting men through tables and thanking them for what turned out to be good advice) was quite the thrill and just put this film right on top of the list for films to demand for rent!  (In 88 I was 12. So praise the lord in deed for a father and who was very relaxed about what we saw on the box).

So to the film itself: Well we all know the premise of Die Hard. It’s been used by so many other film-makers (in fact hilariously I read someone pitching an idea they described as Die Hard in a building?). This has also spawned three sequels so far. I will let my colleagues argue over those as they come to them. Personally like most people I rate this the best by far.  After that I go to the direct story sequel in Die Hard with A Vengeance for taking a different approach, providing some hilarious chemistry with Sam Jackson (even if it has a lame ending). Die Hard 2 is more of a clone of the first, but the airport setting does open the world up a bit for it to stand on its own feet. If the first Die Hard did not exist – then people would have stronger words to say about Die Harder (It is also the first 15 rated film I saw at the cinema – and the only film I ever got into as an underage!  Oops). Die hard 4.0 (the title Live Free Or Die Hard can kiss my ass!) was a welcome return after many years, and whilst it had the atmosphere of a Die Hard and some impressive early action – it kind of ran away from itself, and suffered from too much chat and a weak villain.

Getting back to the first then. Do I want to talk about how great Willis is? How painful that glass looked after he darted across it. How even more painful it looked when he was pulling it out later whilst on the radio to Al Powell. Or how well that scene in particular was acted – delivering a great character beat, and also moving the plot on effortlessly as it made our hero relize something about the villain’s plan.

Or maybe we can focus on the level of swearing and the amount of F-bombs used by the cast (Willis in particular). Speaking of which that would lead to his know well known and over-used catchphrase in the series (Boy was it just tagged on for the hell of it in Die Hard 3).

How about Holly Gennaro’s nasty 80’s hair?  Or Hart Bochner’s brilliant sleazeball; Or that moment when the blood hits the glass and McClane realizes the shit they are all in? Or Rickman talking about Forbes magazine, or explaining how the FBI works in a terrorist situation; or McClane welcoming Al Powell to the party? Or making fists with his toes? Or getting annoyed by the limo driver? Or his first heavy use of swearing “Mother Fucker I’ll kill you!” Or the Xmas tape used to stick the gun to McClane’s back – and the moment that follows that reveal? Or poor old Al Leong being killed off by yet another action hero without much of a chance to defend himself. Or McClane threating to cook and eat Karl in that brilliant fight they have? Or the couple caught by terrorists getting a bit naked in an empty office; Of the rooftop jump? Or “This is Christmas music!” Or coming out to the coast to get together and have a few laughs; Or “Yeah, So my captain keeps telling me” or Powell saving the day after that great reveal of Karl at the end.

Anyone familiar with the film will know all of those moments and many more. In fact, fans of the film tend to have seen it so often that they can quote it as easily as one of the original Star Wars films. Very few films get this reputation and are loved as much by both fans and critics alike. This is Willis ultimate 5 star movie that stands the test of time, has its place in cinema history, and ranks high on critics’ lists if not topping them within its own field. Bruce Willis owes everything he has to John McClane.

The question really then to ask is – Is there any problems with the film? It’s a difficult question to answer – cause where do you look?  In the performances?  No. In the direction or cinematography – hell No! The script? Well – there maybe be a few bits here and there that are either inaccurate to real life, or don’t quite ring true, but not really anything there?

I guess the video box lied to me!  It said there were 12 terrorits and by my count there are 13!  Shit even Wikipedia says there are twelve.  I just want to get it off my chest!  There are 13!!  And I can name check every one in the order they get taken out of play (even if I don’t know who they all are.) Can you count them all? And I will also attempt to point out the one guy people don’t seem to remember as he is in like 3 shots in the entire film!

1–      Karl’s brother. Neck broken in fall down stairs with McClane. Classic Line: “I promise, I won’t hurt you.”

2–      Blonde guy. Shot in door way as his partner ducks out the way

3–      Shot through table by McClane. Classic Line “Next time you get the chance to kill someone. Don’t hesitate.”

4–      Ponytail guy – Blown up by elevator whilst retrieving arms thanks to McClane’s chair bomb!

5–      Ponytails partner (Blonde hair), the one firing on the armored car (“Jaaa!  I see him!”) – also blown up by chair bomb.

6–      Long haired guy – shot before he can get out the lift – just after Hans is found out by McClane.

7–      Dark curly haired guy in lift – Shot in legs by McClane and head lands through a glass pane. Had one angry line earlier: “We’ve got to shut him up, He’s telling them everything!”

8–      Uli – Al Leong – Oriental dude – taken out on roof as McClane enters and blows holes through poor Al’s Back.

9–      Theo, The black nerd guy – taken out by Argyle in the basement – Just gets his lights punched out.

10–   13th guy!  Also gets his lights punched out. McClane decks him out as he is running with a stack of bonds, both he and the bonds hit the deck. Then McClane screams for “Haaaaans!” attention. (This is the guy people seem to forget as he is in like only a few other shots hanging around in the background. Although he does make a high pitched noise as he flicks something when they get the vault open).

11–   Eddie – Lobby Guy – the guy guarding the lobby gets one square between the eyes when McClane reveals the pistol stuck to his back. Nice shot!

12–   Hans – Happy trails!

13–   Karl – back from the dead – Al Powell puts Karl out of his vengeful misery to the backing of music that sounds like it was stolen from a James Horner Star Trek score.

See!  Thirteen!  I hate it when people can’t get details about their own films right! And I don’t know why it bothers me. I’m not a mathematics nerd. But I do like facts to be factual! Anyway now that I have exorcised that demon forever and lumbered you all with it instead – beyond that publicity fact, there is literally not one thing, not one moment that bothers me about this film. Which in turn qualifies it for the top 5 best Action movies ever made. It may well be Willis’ only entry that will get him so high up a list. But in quick thought, Die Hard may well even top it. I don’t think any of Stallone’s films beats it. Or even any of Arnolds. Sorry T2 is just far too long! I’m even hard pressed to tell you if Die Hard is better than Aliens or not.

Just writing about it makes we want to go put it on now. It’s a film I can’t wait to get back to again and it had the people working at the top of their game!  Willis, Producer Joel Silver, Writer Steven E De Souza.

Happy trails, fans.

Steven Hurst

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