MOTW: "Die Hard" Review

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NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) becomes the only hope for a small group of hostages, one of whom is his estranged wife, trapped in a high-rise L.A. office building that's been seized by a group of terrorists on Christmas Eve. At the helm of the heist is evil mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Based on a novel by Roderick Thorp and directed by John McTiernan, Die Hard is the first of five films in the ultra successful action series.
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MOTW: "Die Hard" Review

-- Rating: R (strong graphic bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity, and drug use)
Length: 131 minutes
Release Date: July 15, 1988
Directed by: John McTiernan
Genre: Action/Thriller

"Die Hard" is one of the quintessential action movies of the 1980s, and it skyrocketed Bruce Willis to an all-new level of popularity. It has all the elements of a great flick with a bad guy we loved to hate, a good guy we loved to love, and catch phrases everyone loved to say. Most people who've seen it have one or two favorite scenes, even if they aren't hardcore fans.

Bruce Willis hadn't really done many movies when "Die Hard" hit the theaters. His most famous role was that of private investigator David Addison Jr. on the TV series "Moonlighting." He'd starred alongside Kim Basinger in the romantic comedy "Blind Date" and "Sunset" with James Garner a few months before "Die Hard's" release. Once the holiday-timed, action extravaganza hit theaters, however, Willis shot up in demand. The role of Officer John McClane gave his career such a boost that he's still taking part in the franchise 20 years later.

Unlike other action movies of the 80s, "Die Hard" didn't have a comedic duo fighting crime together, at least not in the same way as "Lethal Weapon" or "Beverly Hills Cop." Officer John McClane was the sole hope for the hostages taken by ruthless German terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). He did have a partner of sorts on the ground, but there was very little interaction between McClane and donut-toting, retirement-ready Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson).

There is also a dedicated love interest in "Die Hard" that isn't present in the other action franchises famous during this time. Instead of sleeping with some random woman, McClane only has eyes for his wife, Holly Gennaro McClane (Bonnie Bedelia). She's recently moved from New York to Los Angeles without her husband in an effort to further her career, but the separation seems a little too permanent once John arrives for a holiday visit. He finds that not only does his wife seem especially close with her coworkers and not so happy to see him, but she insists on using her maiden name.

"Die Hard" was written in the early 80s when women were returning to the workforce, and many men were finding themselves in situations with wives being wooed by the allure of having careers. The extremes the script goes to in a cross-country move, name change, and chilly attitude played upon the fears-and realities-of target audiences. How many newly divorced men in theaters didn't wish they could swoop into their wives' corporate lives and prove themselves worthy of a place there?

In that way, "Die Hard" transcended the other popular action movies of the day, and so did the character of John McClane. Regular, ordinary guys wanted to be accidental heroes, just like him. More importantly, they wanted to be able to save their wives and families in a very real way. Hans Gruber aside, the story at the center of the movie was one that American males could really identify with. The glitz of Hollywood special effects, and the humor found in cheesy dialogue just added to their enjoyment.

As for Gruber, it isn't hard to tell why he has remained such a popular villain over the years. He's smug, self-assured, and never considers the idea that his captives will take the upper hand. With a thick accent and a stiff upper lip, he even has the audacity to mar the name of John Wayne. Gruber is a German fiend, and audiences celebrate wildly as he goes toe-to-toe with the brutish cop from New York. We love Gruber for the same reason we love another of Alan Rickman's memorable characters, Severus Snape. He lends such an atmosphere of disdain to his bad guy roles that the thrill of his downfall comes with real satisfaction.

"Die Hard" went above and beyond comparable movies of the 80s in more ways than one. After its release in 1988, it surprised critics when it garnered nominations for four different Academy Awards in 1989. In 1990, it won Best Foreign Language Film during the Awards of the Japanese Academy, and also at the Blue Ribbon Awards in Tokyo, Japan.

The movie has gone on to fuel a franchise of films that are still popular box office draws as well. Released in 2007, "Live Free or Die Hard," was the fourth movie in the series, and had overall earnings of $383.4 million. The fifth movie, "A Good Day to Die Hard," will hit theaters in February, 2013.

4 out of 5 stars