Die Hard (DVD, 2007, Special Edition; Steelbook)

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Action Resurrection

May 30, 2000 (Updated Aug 15, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good characters, great action, the new standard in shoot-em-ups

Cons:Some minor stereotypes

The Bottom Line: Yippee-kayay, motherbucket.


In a time when the American action genre was become cliched to the point of self-parody (see Commando), John McTiernan's Die Hard tore up the mold and spat in its eye. When others were promoting their super-hero protagonist who could mow down legions of baddies in a single bound, our John McClane struggled against a mere twelve terrorists.

The plot is simple: McClane (Bruce Willis in the role that made him) comes from New York City to visit his wife in Los Angeles for her company's Christmas party. The party, at the corporate Nakatomi building, is then raided by mostly German terrorists, while McClane is upstairs. Being a cop, he decides to do what he can to summon the police, as well as stop the terrorists from blowing small-caliber holes in his body. And there, in a word is the framework of the plot.

What comes as most refreshing about Die Hard is the humanity that it injects into all of its characters. While the Schwartzaneggers of the world were perennially parroting his Terminator performance, Willis was the average Joe. He was scared, he made mistakes, but he did what he felt was necessary. So we cared about him, while not quite sure that he would make it without a Stallone to back him up. It helps, too, that he isn't out to save the day himself and blow away all the baddies with his ever-loaded machine gun - he just wants the cops to come and take care of it so he can get home safely.

The supporting characters, too, are fully defined for the most part. Reginald VelJohnson (of Family Matters fame) gives his architypical fat cop, Al Powell, humanity in the face of his own redemption. Karl (Alan Rickman, wonderfully blasť), while being a ruthless, conniving, clear-cut bad guy, also makes perfect sense as a person. Sure, if given the means and the opportunity, a man of loose morals would jump at this job. A few of the lesser players, though, play as stereotypes - not that their role required anything more. There's the controlling deputy police chief, the ambitious jerk reporter, and the ten or so miscellaneous thugs whose ultimate demise are necessary to the progress of the film.

In giving this movie a limited playing field, McTiernan and company also give the action set pieces the vitality they need to shine among a horde of predecessors. McTiernan places McClane in tight quarters as much as possible to play up the immediacy of the danger. Never does McClane get more than thirty feet between him and his foe. This close-quarters gunplay gives a perfect claustrophobic tension to the action, knowing that any stray bullet could end it. At times, McTiernan multiplies the tension, placing his protagonist under the table which the baddie stands on, inside an exposed air duct, or in an elevator shaft.

The gun fights, as they involve fewer people, by nature last longer. Most are one-on-one or two-on-one, so to have McClane blast every terrorist the moment he steps in the room would be ultimately unsatisfying. A few times, he does get a terrorist on the way in, but usually that guy's buddy makes him pay for it. The action involves sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple conflicts that always highlight the danger to both parties. There's one notable exception, but it keeps the pace going and makes sure that the action doesn't slip into redundancy.

It seems ironic now that the movie that went against the action movie grain has spawned a new generation of cliched films. Since Die Hard, enclosed spaces have been all the rage. Everything is now Die Hard on a boat or Die Hard on a plane or Die Hard in a women's prison. So it goes, I suppose, that any bold original is bound to open the floodgates of derivative tripe to pour through eager producers' offices.


Recommend this product? Yes

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