“DIE HARD” (1988) Review

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“DIE HARD” (1988) Review

Almost twenty-six years ago, 20th Century Fox released an action-adventure film that kicked off a movie franchise that has lasted with the addition of four other films and twenty-five years. I am speaking of the 1988 movie called “DIE HARD”. And the ironic thing is that I had no intention of seeing the film when it first hit the movie theaters during that summer of ’88.

Based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel called “Nothing Lasts Forever” (which sounds like a title for a Bond movie), “DIE HARD” was directed by John McTiernan. Many would be surprised to know that the 1979 movie was a sequel to an earlier Thorp novel published in 1966 called “The Detective”, which was adapted into a 1968 movie that starred Frank Sinatra. Thorp had hoped a movie adaptation of the 1979 novel would also star Sinatra. But the singer-actor was not interested in a sequel to his movie. Later, the novel was being considered as a sequel to the Arnold Schwartzenegger 1985 movie, “COMMANDO”. But Schartzenegger was not interested. Oh dear. Finally, the novel became a literary source for “DIE HARD”. However, the Fox studio executives were not thrilled at the idea of Bruce Willis being cast as the movie’s lead, due to his reputation as a comedic television actor. But cast he was . . . and the rest is Hollywood history.

“DIE HARD” told the story of off-duty NYPD detective John McClane, who arrived in Los Angeles to reconciled with his estranged wife, Holly Gennero McClane. Husband and wife had clashed several months earlier when she accepted a job promotion with the Nakatomi Corporation that sent her to Los Angeles. A hired limousine driver named Argyle drives McClane to the Nakatomi Plaza building in Century City for the company’s Christmas party. While, the detective changes clothes, the party is disrupted by the arrival of terrorist Hans Gruber and his armed followers. The latter seize control of the tower and the partygoers as hostages. Only McClane, armed with a pistol, manages to evade capture. Gruber’s intentions are revealed, when he interrogates Nakatomi executive Joseph Takagi for the code to the building’s vault that holds $640 million in bearer bonds. When Takagi refuses to cooperate, Gruber executes him. McClane manages to kill one of Gruber’s men, taking the latter’s weapon and radio. He uses the radio to contact the Los Angeles Police Department during a gunfight with more of Gruber’s men on the roof. The L.A.P.D. eventually sends patrolman Sergeant Al Powell to investigate. When McClane drops one of Gruber’s dead associates on Powell’s patrol car roof, the latter finally summons the police force to respond. The incident also draws the attention of an ambitious local news reporter named Richard Thornburg, who is determined to learn McClane’s identity. Despite the arrival of Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson, numerous men that include a S.W.A.T. team, and later the F.B.I., McClane and Holly eventually realizes that matters have grown worse for both of them.

Most moviegoers and critics view “DIE HARD” as the best in the franchise. Is it the best? Hmmm . . . I really cannot say. As much as I love the movie, I certainly do not consider it perfect. The movie possesses flaws that I had not noticed during previous viewings and one particular flaw that I have noticed since I first saw it years ago. One aspect about “DIE HARD” that I found particularly annoying was the movie’s pacing. Director John McTiernan did a pretty good job with the movie’s pacing. Unfortunately, two-thirds into the movie, McTiernan began to lose steam and the pacing began to drag. Trimming the story would not have helped. I had no problem with the narrative during this film’s period. But I did have a problem with the director’s pacing. One of Roger Ebert’s complaints about “DIE HARD” was its unflattering portrayal of the Los Angeles Police Department. And if I must be brutally honest, I share his complaint. I am not a great admirer of the L.A.P.D. or any police force. But the police’s incompetency portrayed in the movie struck me as damn near unrealistic. I feel that McTiernan and screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart went a bit to the extreme to make John McClane look good. And if I must be brutally frank, the movie does feature some rather cheesy dialogue – especially from the villains. However, my biggest complaint regarding “DIE HARD” – the one flaw I have been aware of since I first saw the film – occurred in the final action scene. Back in the 1980s, it was popular in action or thriller movies to temporarily “resurrect” a villain/villainess before killing him or her for good. This happened with Glenn Close’s character in the 1987 movie, “FATAL ATTRACTION”. This also happened to Alexander Godunov’s character in “DIE HARD”. And you know what? I hate this kind of showy action. I found it stupid and cringe-worthy when I first saw the movie. And I still find it a major blot on this otherwise first-rate movie.

Flaws or no flaws, “DIE HARD” is without a doubt, a first-rate action thriller that helped defined the genre during the 1980s. While reading the plot for Roderick Thorp’s 1978 novel, I was surprised to discover how much it resembled the 1988 film. There were some changes made in the latter. The main hero acquired a new name and shed at least two decades in age. Instead of a daughter, McClane’s wife ended up as one of the hostages. The franchise’s producers used the daughter character in the fourth film, “LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”. The German terrorist – renamed Hans Gruber – was more interested in pulling a heist than making a political statement. The Al Powell character is at least fifteen years older. And unlike Thorp’s novel, “DIE HARD” ended on a more optimistic note for the two main characters.

Producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver were lucky to gather such a talented cast and director for this movie. Thanks to the actors and director John McTiernan, “DIE HARD” featured some excellent dramatic moments. My favorite dramatic scenes include the tense quarrel between John and Holly before Gruber’s arrival at the Christmas party, Gruber’s interrogation of Joseph Takagi for the codes to the executive vault, Holly’s tense interactions with Gruber, Takagi employee Harry Ellis’ attempt to convince McClane to surrender to Gruber, McClane’s accidental encounter with Gruber, and the many radio conversations between McClane and Powell. I found the latter especially impressive, considering that Bruce Willis and Reginald VelJohnson spent most of the movie apart.

But “DIE HARD” is, above all, an action film. And thanks to some members of the cast, a group of talented stuntmen and crew, the action sequences featured in the movie proved to be very memorable. If I had to choose those scenes that really impressed me, they would have to be the ones that featured Al Powell’s awareness of the presence of terrorists at the Nakatomi Tower thanks to some gunfire and a dead body that landed on his patrol car, the S.W.A.T. team’s failed assault on the building, and McClane’s retaliation against the terrorists’ massacre of the S.W.A.T. team (using explosives strapped to a chair). I was also impressed by the brief, yet final confrontation between the McClanes and Gruber. But for me, the most spectacular sequence turned out to be the rooftop explosion that claimed the lives of more Gruber men and two F.B.I. agents hovering above in an helicopter. Well-known cinematographer Jan de Bont and the special effects team really outdid themselves in that particular sequence.

As I had earlier pointed out, “DIE HARD” featured some outstanding performances. Bruce Willis was already a television star thanks to the 1980s series, “MOONLIGHTING”. But his superb, yet tough performance as the besieged N.Y.P.D. detective John McClane not only made him an action star, but also a bonafide movie star. I believe that Holly Gennero McClane proved to be one of Bonnie Bedelia’s best roles, thanks to her excellent performance as McClane’s passionate and no-nonsense wife. “DIE HARD” also made a star of Alan Rickman, thanks to his deliciously sardonic performance as the ruthless Hans Gruber. In fact, his Gruber happens to be one of my favorite cinematic villains of all time. Reginald VelJohnson’s career also benefited from his first-rate performance as the compassionate L.A.P.D. officer, Sergeant Al Powell.

There were other performances in “DIE HARD” that caught my attention. Ballet dancer Alexander Godunov gave a very competent performance as Gruber’s right-hand man, Hans, who wants revenge for McClane’s killing of his younger brother. Hart Bochner was very entertaining as Holly’s gauche co-worker, Harry Ellis. However, I must admit that I found the character somewhat one-dimensional. William Atherton was very memorable as the ambitious and slimy news reporter, Richard Thornburg. Clarence Gilyard revealed a talent for comic acting, in his excellent portrayal of Gruber’s sardonic and cold-blooded computer specialist, Theo. Andreas Wisniewski was excellent as Hans’ younger brother, the no-nonsense Karl. Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush (who reunited in the 1989 James Bond movie, “LICENSE TO KILL”) made a great screen team as the arrogant F.B.I. Special Agents Johnson and Johnson. De’voreaux White, someone I have not seen in years, provided his own brand of sharp humor and the movie’s best line as McClane’s limousine driver, Argyle. And finally, the late Paul Gleason proved to be very entertaining as the not-so-bright Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson.

I find myself back at that moment in which I pondered over the reputation of “DIE HARD”. Do I still believe it is one of the best action movies ever made? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have seen my share of action movies that strike me as equally good – including other films in the DIE HARD franchise. And the movie does have its share of flaws. But “DIE HARD” is also a personal favorite of mine, thanks to John McTiernan’s excellent direction, a first-rate adaptation of Roderick Thorp’s novel, superb action-sequences and outstanding performances from a stellar cast led by Bruce Willis. Over twenty-five years have passed since the movie’s initial release. And honestly . . . it has not lost one bit of its magic.

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Fox Plaza Tower in Century City, CA aka the Nakatomi Tower

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“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (2013) Review

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“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (2013) Review

Five-and-a-half years following the successful release of the fourth movie in the DIE HARD movie franchise – 2007’s“LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD”, 20th Century Fox Studios release a fifth movie about the adventures of New York Police detective John McClane called “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”

A high-ranking, yet corrupt official in Moscow, Russia named Viktor Chagarin plans on incriminating political prisoner/government whistleblower and former billionaire Yuri Komarov without a fair trial when Komarov refuses to hand over a secret file believed to have convicting evidence against Chagarin. A young man assassinates a colleague of Chagarin’s and agrees to testify against Komarov for a shorter sentence. He turns out to be John “Jack” McClane Jr., Detective McClane’s estranged only son. The NYPD police officer, who has not been in touch with his son for years, learns of Jack’s situation and travels to Russia to help.

But when John arrives and approaches the courthouse that holds Jack and Komarov on trial, an explosion orchestrated by Chagarin and his henchmen disrupts the courthouse, and Jack breaks free with Komarov. After spotting Jack, John confronts him, but their dispute is cut short when Chagarin’s henchmen, led by main enforcer Alik, chase them throughout the streets of Moscow. John learns that Jack is a CIA agent and has been on a three-year mission to rescue Komarov from Chagarin’s clutches and retrieve a file that can link Chagarin and Komarov to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The file will enable the U.S. government to bring down Chagarin, who has proven to be an obstacle to U.S.-Russian relations. But the McClane men not only learn to heal long-standing family rifts, but also discover there is more to this mission than evidence against Chagarin.

“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” received negative reviews from movie critics. In fact, their response to the movie strongly reminded me of the negative press that the James Bond movie, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” had received in 2008. In a way, I could see why. Both movies share two negative traits that prevented them from becoming even better films.“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”, like the Bond film, suffered from what I liked to call the “Paul Greengrass film editing style”. I realize that this editing style has been popular with recent filmmakers who use it to trim a movie’s running time. But I can do without it. I disliked in the second and third JASON BOURNE movies. I disliked it in “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. And I also disliked it in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”. Director John Moore and editor Dan Zimmerman used it with strong effect during the Moscow car chase, making the latter one of the most confusing car chases since the one featured in 2007’s “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”.

Moore and Zimmerman’s use of this fast speed editing style also enabled them to give “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” the shortest running time in the franchise’s fifteen year history . . . one of 97 minutes. The idea of a DIE HARD movie running slightly over 90 minutes makes me shake my head in disbelief. Also, the plot for this latest film, penned by Skip Woods, is too complicated and quite frankly, too good to be wasted on a 90-something minutes running time. If “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” had possessed a longer running time, Woods story could have been told with greater detail. For instance, the movie could have revealed how John learned of Jack’s arrest with greater detail. And the situation regarding Chagarin, Komarov and Jack could have been told with greater detail with a longer running time. Also, Cole Hauser could have enjoyed more screen time as Jack’s CIA partner, Mike Collins. Instead, Hauser was barely on screen for five minutes tops.

Before one begins to think I share the critics’ dislike of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE”, you will be mistaken. Because I do not share their opinion. Despite the Paul Greengrass editing style and the shorter running time, I still enjoyed the movie very much . . . in fact, more than I thought possible. As I had stated earlier, Skip Woods penned a very strong story for the movie. Yes, it featured the usual over-the-top action that has been a hallmark of the franchise for years. One of my favorite scenes proved to be John, Jack and Komarov’s escape from the CIA safe house in Moscow. It not only gave Bruce Willis (or his stunt man) another chance to prove how great he can be as on-screen badass, it gave Jai Courtney, who portrayed Jack McClane, a chance to show that his character is a badass, as well. In fact, another scene provided more great moments for both Willis and Courtney – namely the McClane men’s escape from death after they and Komarov were captured by Alix.

One of the best aspects of Woods’ screenplay proved to be the complicated story surrounding the strained relationship between Chagarin and Komarov. This storyline provided audiences an interesting peek into Russian politics – if it is somewhat accurate. I suspect that it is not completely accurate, but this is a work of fiction we are talking about, not a documentary. More importantly, Woods’ story added the Chernobyl disaster as a catalyst to the former colleagues’ estrangement . . . enabling audiences a chilling peek at the infamous Chernobyl site in the Ukraine, during the movie’s final action scene. This sequence also provided a plot twist that brought back a memories of the 1990 film, “DIE HARD 2”. The best aspect of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” is that the movie allowed a more satisfying portrayal of the relationship between John and Jack than “LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD” did for John and Lucy, five years ago.

Speaking of the relationship between the two McClane men, it would not have worked without the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney. I understand that the movie’s casting director considered a good number of actors – including Liam Hemsworth and James Badge Dale – before Australian actor Jai Courtney was chosen. Willis was in top form, as usual. I found Willis very effective in portraying McClane’s desire to reconcile with his son in conflict with the NYPD cop’s penchant for butting into situations where he is not wanted. And he formed a top-notch chemistry with Courtney. The latter did an excellent job in portraying Jack’s initial resentment toward John, his growing regard for the latter and intense fixation on his mission. German actor Sebastian Koch (whom I last saw in 2011’s “UNKNOWN”, gave a subtle, yet complex portrayal of Yuri Komarov, the former billionaire and criminal who found a conscious and exposed his former partner. Sergei Kolesnikov gave a solid performance as the corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin. But I found Yuliya Snigir very impressive as Komarov’s daughter Irina, who proved to be more than meets the eye. I wish I could say the same about Radivoje Bukvić, who portrayed Chagarin’s main henchman. But I found his performance a little over-the-top. It was nice to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead reprise her portrayal of Lucy McClane, and she proved to be as spunky as ever. But Cole Hauser was really effective as Mike Collins, Jack’s CIA partner. He was subtle, brutal and slightly scary. And his performance made me wish he had more scenes.

I can understand the critics’ disappointment with the shorter running time and quick flash editing in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”. But despite these flaws, the movie still proved to be very entertaining, thanks to solid, yet slightly flawed direction by John Moore, an interesting story penned by Skip Woods and a first rate cast led by Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney.

“LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” (2007) Review

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“LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” (2007) Review

When I had first heard about a third sequel to the 1988 action blockbuster,”DIE HARD”, I thought that Bruce Willis must be very desperate to revive his career. Aside from the 2005 hit, ”SIN CITY”, he has not appeared in very successful movie in nearly a decade. The last movie in the ”DIE HARD” franchise had been released in 1995. Twelve years seemed like a hell of a time to release a new sequel. And to be honest, successful action flicks about cops have rarely been successful since the dawn of the 21st century. Needless to say, I did not harbor any hopes of this being a first-rate or successful film.

Then other facts and rumors about this new movie began to reach my ears. First came the title – ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”. It seemed very cheesy to me. In fact, it still does. I also heard a rumor that the John McClane character had left the New York Police Department to work for Homeland Security. Thankfully that turned out to be nothing more than a false rumor, for I had envisioned scenes filled with constant flag waving and patriotic rhetoric. Then I learned of the tidbit that McClane’s character would be battling foreign-born computer terrorists. This sounded oddly familiar. In fact, it brought back memories of the 1995 Sandra Bullock film, ”THE NET”. Well that rumor proved to be half-true. The two main terrorists – portrayed by Timothy Olyphant (“DEADWOOD”) and Maggie Q (“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3”) – turned out to be American-born. In the end, ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” not only proved to be worthy of its three predecessors, I thought it was just as good as the first film.

Despite its cheesy title, ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” had the good luck to possess an intriguing and damn good story. A former Federal employee named Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant) decides to attack the U.S. infrastructure during the July 4 holiday, through the use of high-tech computer programming. Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, he had warned his employers that any high-tech terrorist could bring about the country’s downfall through similar attacks. When they failed to listen and ruin his reputation and career, he decides to get his revenge with the help of his assistant and lady love, Mai Lihn (Maggie Q). Gabriel tricked several hackers, including one named Matt Ferrell (Justin Long) to create several programs to achieve goals. Then he proceeds to infect the hackers’ computer systems with a virus before killing them off one by one. When Ferrell hacks into the FBI, the latter sends the NYPD to arrest the remaining hacker still alive – Ferrell. Lieutenant Detective (Willis) is assigned to deliver the young hacker to Washington D.C. What started as a simple, delivery assignment turns into a full-scale hunt and destroy mission to take down Gabriel for both McClane and Ferrell.

Moviegoers and film critics tend to focus upon the action sequences for movies like those in the ”DIE HARD” franchise. But for me, exciting action sequences alone does not make a movie. Certainly not sequences like the one that featured McClane and a military jet. I really could have done without that little moment. For me to truly enjoy a movie like ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”, I also need a first-class story and good performances. Fortunately, the movie possessed all three – a first-rate script penned by Mark Bomback, exciting action sequences and an excellent cast led by the superb and always entertaining Bruce Willis. I want to point out that he was especially assisted by Olyphant, who portrayed a very intelligent and sinister villain; and Justin Long, who as Ferrell, managed to create great screen chemistry with Willis.

And believe it or not, director Len Weisman (“UNDERWORLD” and “UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION”) managed to bring it all of these elements together to create an exciting thriller that left me on the edge of my seat . . . instead of boring me out of my mind. To my utter surprise, Weisman actually managed to keep the ”DIE HARD” franchise fresh. And if he and Bruce Willis ever decide to consider it, I would not mind seeing a fifth movie.