Yipikaye – It’s the Christmas Day review!
The first and arguably best of the Die Hard film series of John McClane against the bad guys.
Die Hard (1988) Theatrical Trailer #1, Forever Cinematic Trailers and photographs © 20th Century Fox
Die Hard (1988), as the unanimous winner of the Christmas review reader’s vote, was no surprise. After all, it launched the film career of Bruce Willis the then relatively unknown co-lead of Moonlighting (1985-89), who had up until then had only got a couple of films and TV appearances under his belt. It also starred the British actor, Alan Rickman as the head bad guy.
At the time, the supporting cast of Paul Gleason and Willis’s onscreen wife, Bonnie Bedelia both had high-profile acting careers before this movie. Gleason, for example, had starred in many a 1980s TV series including the prime-time soaps Dallas (1978-91) to Falcon Crest (1981-90) and other retro classics such as Magnum P.I. (1980-88) and The A-Team (1983-87). Die Hard was later to spawn a computer game, and four sequels and now there are even suggestions of a prequel set in the 1970s.
So how did the Die Hard story begin…the story begins with off-duty New York cop and family man John McClane’s (Willis) plane landing in Los Angeles. McClane tells his startled neighbour on the plane about his job as he spots his gun. It’s Christmas Eve and there are many Christmas references scattered throughout the movie.
McClane is in L.A. as he is hoping to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly (Bedelia) and his young children. He meets with Holly at her work’s Christmas party. They talk then she is called away by a colleague. McClane is left alone in her office to freshen up for the party.
Simultaneously a small group of men are entering the building and it appears they are up to no good as a doorman gets shot, computers are hacked and wires are cut. The ringleader of these men, Hans Gruber and his followers then arrive at the party brandishing shotguns and shooting randomly.
On hearing this commotion McClane slips out of his wife’s office. After the party is taken hostage, McClane is like an older Macaulay Culkin – from his Home Alone (1990) film series and uses all his resources, environment and ingenuity. McClane then has to play a game of cat and mouse to outwit the bad guys until the police inevitably arrive to support him.
As the story unfolds, we see more of the character’s personalities and motivations. Willis as McClane is superb, he pulls your emotions as a caring family man and husband to laugh aloud moments as the wise-cracking hero – we know and love – when he interacts with Gruber. McClane is supportive of the well-meaning cop, Al and their bromance was touching and sincere.
Al is likewise an empathetic and supportive partner to McClane, albeit via a walkie-talkie. It was a pleasant change that his character wasn’t the clichéd one day away from retirement partner. Al also served to update us about the story, by explaining matters to the police, which was an excellent device for those people who had lost track for any reason.
Gleason played the deputy police chief and his character’s attitude reminded Darlin Husband of his role as Mr Vernon in The Breakfast Club (1985). But the main praise must go to Alan Rickman, who acted as he always does, brilliantly.
As Gruber, he appears as a cultured, psychopathic character. Gruber wears a suit, can pull off a damned good English accent in times of need and charms his victims like a snake one minute then terrifies them with his tongue the next. An example is when he lists his demands to the police he lists well-known prisoners, then later he confides to a sidekick he’s been listing about random prisoners he’s read about in Time magazine.
Rickman acts with his facial gestures, particularly the raised eyebrow – possibly stolen from fellow Brit Roger Moore’s acting masterclass – and his body language and eyes convey that weary, almost fed-up look with co-conspirators and hostages alike. Rickman’s speeches were delivered with a hint of sarcasm and one-liners in his dry, sardonic manner.
He hams and deadpans his lines up to almost (Jack) Nicholson proportions. Gruber’s battle of the one-liners with McClane almost feels similar to a Western film at the High Noon showdown. In this role, I feel, Rickman introduced the viewer to a new word. Rickmansplaining may have led to the later mansplaining.
Though some may argue mansplaining has always been around since the dawn of time. Rickmansplaining could be defined as where matters are explained to you in a slow, deliberate, apathetic manner with a dollop of weariness and just on the verge of being patronising.
Rickmansplaining has appeared in many of his roles since. Examples can be seen in his roles such as the Sheriff George of Nottingham in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991) film to Rickman’s role of Metatron, an angel in Kevin Smith’s Dogma (1999).
Rickmansplaining more recently was seen in Family Guy (1999). Now I feel, Rickmansplaining should be used for its full dramatic effect, with Rickman himself – as no one else could really pull it off – by his casting as the ultimate of bad guys as James Bond’s nemesis and adversary.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
My entry for The Great Villain Blogathon was Hans Gruber from Die Hard (1988). The Blogathon celebrates screen villains and is run by Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. This entry was written before Alan Rickman passed away in 2016. More on this particular villain and my tribute to Rickman’s acting can be read here, 5 Faces of Alan Rickman. Bonnie Bedelia stars in Christmas on the Coast with Clarence Gilyard in a co-star role. Bruce Willis also starred in Eighties Hollywood Hitmakers, 80s Crushes and Moonlighting.