BP’s Top 100 Challenge #34: Die Hard, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
My older brother and I must have watched Die Hard a hundred times when we were growing up and I still love it to this day. I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching John McLane try to thwart Hans Gruber and his merry band of thugs as they break into the Nakatomi building, hold a company full of employees hostage, and break into a vault. As I was watching the film this time I spent some time trying to figure out why Die Hard stands out from the other late-eighties action films. I don’t think I cracked the code but I have some ideas.
Die Hard is a film that is about people who are good at their jobs. John McLane is a good cop who relies on his training to stay alive. Hans says it himself, “He is an exceptional thief”, he knows how the police and FBI will react and he uses that knowledge to attempt an incredible robbery. Sergeant Al Powell is also a good cop. He can read the situation better than the police chief and the FBI agents. Also Hans’ men are all pretty good henchmen, they just didn’t expect a cop to be inside and act as resistance. Those people who are good at their jobs are juxtaposed with people who are bad at their job or bad a handling chaos. The police chief proves himself to be inept over and over again, Harry Ellis gets himself killed, and even the FBI guys can’t figure out what is going on. There is something very satisfying about watching people who are smart and good at their job out smart other people. Die Hard really plays on that.
Director John McTiernan masterfully films the action scenes, keeping the audience engaged from start to finish. McTiernan keeps you grounded in the action and in the geography of the building as the film progresses. He cleverly uses recognizable things like the poster of the topless model to reorient you as McLane makes his way through this huge skyscraper. McTiernan also builds up the action scenes so they start relatively small and contained and lead up to bombs exploding and McLane jumping off the roof. The film really holds up over time. The stunts and effects are fantastic and while occasionally cheesy they are still thrilling and brutal to watch (the glass in the feet). And even though it was before the era of cell phones and the internet it doesn’t feel terribly dated (ignore the clothing and hair styles).
There are so many great and quotable lines in the film as well as a fantastic lead and secondary performances. Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are at the top of their games and the few scenes when they are together in the same room are electric. But who could forget about other gems like De’voreaux White as the limo driver Argyle, Clarence Gilyard as the techie Theo, and Alexander Gudunov as the total creep henchman Karl. Those supporting performances are a big part of why Die Hard is one of the best action films of all time.
Die Hard is not only an excellent action film, it is an excellent film overall and its ability to stand the test of time and still hold up is admirable. Unlike many modern action films and several of its sequels, Die Hard tell one contained story that manages to feel grand in scope and effect while staying in one location. Yippee ki-yay!
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Die Hard rank: Carrier