Looking back at the best festive film of all time…
First of all, apologies for the two-week absence, as I was too busy with a pileup of holiday coursework to write a post, but as I’m now free of most of my burdens, I thought I’d look at something rather festive! So, without further ado, Die Hard!
I know what you’re thinking, “hang on, that isn’t a Christmas film, its an action film!” Yes, I know it’s a controversial issue, but I love the film, and seeing as it takes place at Christmas I’m reviewing it anyway. If you want something more saccharine and cheesy you can watch Elf.
I recently saw Die Hard again with a bunch of friends and some drinks, and let me tell you, that film never gets old. It helps to watch with someone who hasn’t yet seen it; their reaction reminds you exactly how you were the first time you saw it. Die Hard is one of those films that is hard to analyse, because the reputation it has makes it difficult to separate the objective quality and the entertainment factor. However, there are certain things we can look at to see why this fantastic movie has endured for so long, and why the sequels don’t always measure up.
First of all, the setting. Die Hard takes place at a Christmas party in Los Angeles at the Nakatomi Plaza, where John McClane becomes embroiled in a heist disguised as terrorist kidnapping, and has to overcome great odds and no shoes in order to save the day and reconcile with his wife. The setting allows for a huge set, and yet a claustrophobic atmosphere as McClane is stuck running around the building trying to get the Police to turn up. The fact that he is trapped with them forcing him to come up with some ingenious ways of outmanoeuvring the villain, Hans Gruber. For instance, when he is unable to attract the attention of a cop, who checks the desk and thinks that everything is fine, he throws the body of one the robbers onto the man’s car, immediately letting them know how serious the situation is. Later sequels often made the setting all over the place, in different cities and countries, but that just removes the tight hemmed-in atmosphere and lowers the stakes.
Bruce Willis is at his best as the put-upon New York cop, out of his element. John McClane is a more down-to-earth action hero, constantly damaging his body, without even shoes, in order to save the hostages. He is a capable cop, but the constant stress and fighting wears him down over the course of the film, until he can barely stand. This appeals to a lot of people, the underdog who still fights on. Having a relatable hero who has to struggle and still wins is ten times more satisfying than an unstoppable demi-god. It also helps that Willis has some of the best lines in the film, and his deadpan delivery is on point. By far the best scene is when McClane calls the emergency line and cannot get through to the operator as she doesn’t take him seriously. Watching him cuss her out furiously as he avoids gunfire is always entertaining.
However, the star of the film isn’t Bruce Willis in my opinion. That title belongs to Hans Gruber, played to perfection by Alan Rickman. His over the top German accent, sardonic delivery and brilliant lines add up to a truly memorable villain who is not only intimidating but also very funny. He is charming, quick witted and confident, totally in command of his crew and prepared to deal harshly with Police and FBI alike. Alan Rickman sadly passed away last year, and I would like to take a moment from this review just to mention that Rickman was a national treasure and a top-notch actor. The film world will truly miss his iconic roles and I can only imagine what amazing characters he could have gone on to portray if things had been different.
Moving on to the action, this film is in another class. The enclosed area means that the action has to be creative in order to not become boring. This leads to scenes in which McClane has fire fights under tables, on roofs and climbs down elevator shafts using a frigging machine gun as a grapple. The action may not be realistic, but the consequences it has on McClane, tiring him out and causing blood and sweat, makes it feel much more visceral. Apart from being downright exhilarating, the action provides unexpected comedy in contrast. There are scenes such as when cars crash inside the car park, gunfire ringing out as a cabby sits in his Limo with loud music, blissfully unaware.
Overall, this film is immensely fun, with surprisingly relatable characters, unforgettable performances, fantastic action and a truly unique setting. It’s a great fun romp that can be enjoyed at any time of year, but to get the full effect, it should be watched at Christmas, with friends. What else can I say, it’s Die Hard!