articles pop up asking the all-important question: "Is DIE HARD a Christmas movie?"
I decided this would be the year I finally saw DIE HARD (1988) for the first time so I could decide the question for myself!
So is DIE HARD a Christmas movie? I suppose it's every bit as much a Christmas movie as an older film like the musical mystery LADY ON A TRAIN (1945)...and what's more, I have to say I found DIE HARD a great deal of fun.
NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in L.A. on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their two young children. Holly had moved to L.A. for a high-powered job opportunity working at the Nakatomi Plaza high-rise in Century City. (The movie was filmed at the Fox Plaza at 2121 Avenue of the Stars.)
While a chatty limo driver named Argyle (De'voreaux White) waits for McClane in the Nakatomi parking garage, McClane goes upstairs to say hello to Holly and figure out whether he's going to be taking the limo to Holly's house or a hotel.
Holly leaves McClane to wash up in her office bathroom while she puts in an appearance at the company party elsewhere in the building. While she's there, heavily armed German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the building. The terrorists soon kill Holly's boss, Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta), and take Holly and the other employees hostage. Their goal is to break into the company vault and steal hundreds of millions in bonds.
McClane manages to elude the terrorists and, armed only with his wits and his service gun, he tries to figure out a plan of action, with phones cut off, elevators shut down, and doors barricaded. Some of the biggest suspense in the film revolves around McClane's attempts to alert law enforcement while trapped hiding inside a high-rise fortress; the scene where he gets through to Al (Reginald ValJohnson), a cop sent to check out a report of a problem at the building, is hilarious. (You knew McClane would eventually think of a way, right?!)
I was particularly struck that the movie was simultaneously timely yet not of our era. The "terrorists hit the office" theme resonated strongly, at moments almost a little too disturbing, after recent events here in California and elsewhere.
At the same time, I realized that if this film had been made just a few short years later, after cell phones and the internet were in common usage, it would have been a completely different movie! For instance, shutting down the phone system shuts off all communication -- except for walkie-talkies. No 911 calls from cell phones, no texting to the outside world, no Googling someone's photo on a smart phone...the characters are "flying blind" in a way we don't anymore. We expect that in a movie from, say, the '40s or '50s...while the '80s seem both so near and yet so far.
The '80s seem especially far away when you see a character smoking at LAX...and needless to say, some of the fashions and hairstyles seem to be from a very long time ago indeed!
I loved watching McClane's tactics, such as gradually counting up how many terrorists he's dealing with by marking on his arm with a Sharpie. Sure, a couple of his stunts are unbelievable, but it all works because the character is grounded in a certain reality. Willis's trademark sarcastic wit is also well deployed.
The law enforcement higher-ups from both the LAPD and the FBI, on the other hand, were completely silly, unrealistically unprofessional, with Al the street cop the wise man rolling his eyes at Deputy Police Chief Robinson (Paul Gleason). That said, the Deputy Chief did have a couple of great lines, including a laugh-out-loud funny bit near the end. The FBI agents, both named Johnson, also had some great dialogue.
Bonnie Bedelia's Holly was an admirably staunch heroine, including going toe to toe with Gruber for accommodations for a pregnant employee. De'voreaux White and Reginald ValJohnson both had some wonderful moments. White's limo driver, having realized what was happening thanks to a TV in the limo, has a nice scene when he bravely throws a monkey wrench into the bad guys' master plan; ValJohnson's walkie-talkie conversations with Willis help give the movie some emotional heart and allow McClane to verbalize what he's going through both physically and emotionally. Rickman made a very creepy, dangerous villain.
DIE HARD was directed by John McTiernan and filmed by Jan de Bont. It runs 131 minutes.
Parental Advisory: DIE HARD is rated R for brief nudity, violence, and foul language. The violence is bloody but telegraphed in advance and nothing particularly graphic, other than blood.
DIE HARD is available on DVD in multiple editions. It can be streamed via Amazon Instant.