I do not think Die Hard is particularly well written, well shot or in any way sophisticated. It has a plot which could be written on the back of a paper napkin and despite being an 18 rated movie (in the UK), its main appeal is for 10 year olds. This is incidentally why it’s being reviewed as this was the first properly violent 18 rated movie I can remember watching.
Die Hard is one of those Christmas movies, a bit like The Great Escape which has a slight link to Christmas and therefore becomes festive viewing due it being one of the few things set in the period which is not an inane kids film or a rom-com. It has a silly plot helped by Christmas drunkenness, as it involves Bruce Willis as John McClain, a New York cop who doesn’t play by the rules and going through increasingly ridiculous situations by a variety of evil Europeans generally played by British actors. Hans Gruber is played by Alan Rickman who performs with a wonderful sense of camp-evil which gives me wonderful flash backs to early Bond movies. John has to kill his heavily armed cronies while being actively interfered with by a variety of incompetent cops and other bureaucratic institutions who don’t understand the severity of the situation. John resolves these things which inevitably have his wife involved (at least in the first two movies, I haven’t seen the third for a very long time) by killing all those who get in his way in all sort of manners that would appeal to a 12 year old boy.
It’s simple, stupid fun which has aged reasonably well apart from a few references which could be missed by a modern audience such as European left-wing terrorism and Vietnam. It’s gory and explicit like many action movie from the late 1980s so it hasn’t got the stylised look of something like Sin City. The continuing wisecracks and the mocking tone John takes with the terrorists/criminals lightens the mood considerably, along with a couple of stupid sub plots to add a bit of colour to the proceedings. You never have a sense of threat to McClain partly because he is such a badass although the movie isn’t averse to harming him, with iconic moments such as his barefoot run across a glass filled office area under fire which is still a great action movie thrill.
As a child, this movie was one of the most exciting things I can remember experiencing with its, violence, wisecracks (‘yippee kiy yay Motherfucker), various tricks and traps of someone in an unpleasant environment, the camp evil of Gruber and his evil German accomplices, the inevitable traitor among the hostages, the crappy incompetence of the authorities, a couple of big explosions and of course the unpleasant deaths. All these things appeal to 12 year old boys and when you remove thems maybe there’s not a great deal left, but when they all come together, it really is something to behold.
Retrospective by Harry Riedl