Thursday, March 29, 2018

Random Gushing about Die Hard (1988)

Because this is a childhood (well, teenhood) classic for me and has held up through repeated viewings nearly on the level of the original Star Wars trilogy, I’m making even less of a pretence to objectivity (which I don’t actually believe in when talking about any kind of human expression) than usual. So this is more a list of various bits and pieces I particularly enjoyed and found interesting  or just thought about while watching Die Hard this time around.

For those among my imaginary readers who haven’t seen this (even though I suspect these are even more imaginary then the rest of you): this is one of the three or four best US big budget action films of the last century, featuring Bruce Willis in his absolute prime, the true spirit of Christmas (which has a lot to do with explosions), Jan de Bont doing what he’s actually good at (hint: it is not directing, and certainly not Shirley Jackson adaptations) and brilliant action movie filmmaking by John McTiernan, also in his absolute prime.

This is certainly one of the godfathers of the non-brain-dead blockbuster style action movie. Now, I’m not pretending Die Hard is a film of infinite depths, but it’s certainly not treating its audience as zombies like the Michael Bay school of this sort of thing demands. To wit: watch how much of the film is actually conscious of the concept of class and how it plays out in practice, and how much of it is a paean to the working stiff which is kinda, well, socialist, really, given how all people in class-based authority are either evil or utterly incompetent, and how a deeply working class cop helped by the voice of another cop at the bottom rung of the ladder (in a lovely performance by Reginald VelJohnson) saves the day.

Feeding into this is that Willis is never portrayed as an unstoppable killing machine, not just because Willis’s kind of charisma at this point, following a long stint as mostly a comedic actor, is a very human one. He’s also the rare action hero who sweats and bleeds a lot, losing as much of his clothing as the film can get away with, and coming over as genuinely tired, in danger, and heartily sick of the whole affair, only coming through via the very working class virtue of tenacity. This also makes the film a good fit for the more American reading of being about the lone guy who puts things right with elbow grease and conviction, but then, the country as it is was founded by protestants, with whom this sort of thing particularly resonates.

It’s also pretty interesting that the script is interested enough in social reality to have little moments like the one where the insufferable Deputy Police Chief introduces himself to the African American FBI agent while calling him “man”, and is rebuked simply but effectively. These bits of reality standing beside broad caricature make all of the film’s awesome implausibilities (German Alan Rickman! Crazy FBI cowboys!) more believable and even more fun. Also, explosions are pretty.

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