Kevin: “Die Hard.” What is there left to say about “Die Hard” that hasn’t already been said? It may be the greatest action movie of all time. It may have the greatest action hero and villain of all time. It turned Bruce Willis from funny TV star to awesome action icon, and proved you can release a future Christmas classic in the middle of the summer (and no, we are not going to waste time with that totally played out “debate” over whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie).
I saw “Die Hard” twice in the theater in 1988. I’ve seen it two-and-a-half times on the big screen again in the last three years, most recently during a “Die Hard Movie Party” screening in which people were given cap guns and lighters to use during parts of the movie involving shooting or Bruce lighting up another cig. That may sound like fun to some people, but as soon as the movie started and I got immediately engrossed in it for the 137th time, I realized I’d rather go home and put on my Blu-Ray than have the experience sullied by any distractions. And I can attest that whether it’s 1988 or 2016, whether you are watching it on TV or on the big screen, “Die Hard” holds up as well now as it did back, and it will hold up for as long as people appreciate the kind of cinema that, in the words of its tagline, “will blow you through the back wall of the theater!”
Other thoughts about “Die Hard”:
- Sign this movie was made before 1990: John McClane lights up a cigarette in the baggage claim of LAX and amazingly is not immediately tasered, detained by Homeland Security, and subjected to “Clockwork Orange”-style re-education about the dangers of third-hand smoke on emotional support animals. Not only that, McClane chain smokes throughout the entire movie and this is never seen as unusual or worth noting. By comparison, you can use the “Lethal Weapon” movies to chart the stigmatization of smoking in films as we got into the 90’s: In “Lethal Weapon” (1987) Riggs is an unapologetic smoker with no pushback, by the third in 1992 people are telling him to quit, and by the last in 1998 he doesn’t even go near a pack.
- It may be a toss-up of which hero smokes more in their film, Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” or Patrick Swayze in “Road House.”
- 1988 was a good year for smoking in the airport in movies: In addition to “Die Hard,” Robert De Niro smokes inside a couple of airports in “Midnight Run,” while John Ashton’s rival bounty hunter character smokes at the check-in counter while buying a same-night ticket for a one-way flight (while also carrying a gun in his carry-on bag).
- Also having a good year in 1988: De’Voreaux White, the actor who played limo driver Argyle. Earlier that year he also played the valet driver at Carl Weathers’ apartment building in “Action Jackson” for “Die Hard” producer Joel Silver. He’s barely worked since 1992, but his last credit is as “Uber driver” in “Workaholics.”
- Other “Action Jackson” alums who appear in this include Robert Davi, formerly Jackson’s doomed former partner, as Agent Johnson, Mary Ellen Trainor – former wife of Robert Zemeckis, Riggs’ shrink in the “Lethal Weapons,” and first person to get killed in “Action Jackson” – and the Huey Lewis-looking guy who takes a headshot from Bruce at the end and was also the recipient of Jackson’s legendary “Barbecue huh? How do you like your ribs?” line. This also makes Al Leong’s fourth-straight appearance in a Round Table movie, counting “Action Jackson” which is set for next month.
- While Robert Davi is the more recognizable half of Agents Johnson and Johnson, I’ll always remember Grand L. Bush (who also appeared in “License to Kill” with Davi, as well as “Lethal Weapon 1 and 2” and “Demolition Man” for Joel Silver ) as Ricky Taylor in “Hollywood Shuffle’s” Black Acting School (NSFW):
- I have a hard time believing that the tow-headed moppet with the Prince Valiant haircut we briefly see in the McClane family photo …
… is supposed to someday grow into this meathead by the time of “A Good Day to Die Hard”:
- While everyone rightly remembers his “Hans … bubby!” line right before his death, I can can attest that the way Ellis says “It’s a Rolex” never fails to get a huge laugh from a modern day audience seeing this in a theater:
- Another sign of the times: After Al Powell is introduced buying Twinkies at a gas station and goes outside to look at Nakatomi Plaza, the camera pulls back to show the price of gas at the time: 75 cents a gallon.
- Something I never really picked up on until recently was how weird it is that the company is holding its Christmas party on the actual Christmas Eve, as if none of the employees might have had plans with their families that night or would want or need to travel. They apparently also closed a major deal the day before Christmas, which is also highly unlikely.
- Also, when McClane pulls up to the building it’s still light outside. According to the Weather Channel the average time of sunset in Los Angeles this time of year is 4:45 p.m., yet it looks like the party has been in full swing for a while, Ellis is doing coke on Holly’s desk, and that one drunken couple is barging into her office looking for a place to have sex. What time did this thing get going, and why does everybody immediately run to Holly’s office to do their illicit shit?
- Another sign of the times: Even though it not at all necessary to the plot, being an R-rated 1980s action film mandated at least one gratuitous shot of boobs, in this case occurring when the bad guys barge in on the horny couple getting it on in another office.
- Just when things are looking good with the wife, John completely blowing it with his “I guess you didn’t miss my name, except when signing checks” line is the kind of unforced error every guy can relate to.
- Not sure there’s anything new to be said about how great Alan Rickman is as Gruber, so let’s recognize how equally great Alexander Godunov is as Karl, especially in his final showdown with Bruce in one of the most brutal fights ever filmed. Like they seriously look like two guys who want to kill each other. A former ballet dancer peer of Baryshnikov, he appeared in “Witness,” “The Money Pit,” and “Die Hard” and then almost nothing else before he died in 1995, although his final movie co-starred former Agent Johnson Robert Davi. He did spend a good chunk of the 1980s sleeping with Jacqueline Bisset, so good on him for that.
- After fleeing from the guys coming out of the elevator, McClane machine-guns both knee caps of one of them and sends him flying headfirst into a window, one of the most awesomely gruesome deaths in movie history for just a basic henchman who barely had a line.
- I know a lot of people say that if they could go back in time it would be to kill Hitler, but if I could go back in time I’d want to be a regular at whatever establishment was employing Bruce Willis during his days as a legendary New York bartender (allegedly the basis of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”).
- I still have a hard time believing Argyle was able to knock out Theo cold with that one punch. In reality Theo would have just yelled “Owww” and the two would be slapping at each other through the window for a while.
- By the end of the movie McClane has been shot in the shoulder, had both feet cut up, lost a ton of blood, and sustained several broken ribs and head injuries, yet rather than immediately being put in ambulance he gets in the limo and apparently goes home, a move that looks badass on film but is unwise medically to say the least. This, “Die Hard 2,” and “Last Boy Scout” mark three movies in close order which end with Bruce walking away from a crime scene without getting proper medical attention.
- Did John McTiernan make some sort of deal with the devil? How else to explain how the same guy who made “Predator,” “Die Hard,” and “Hunt for Red October” all in a row is the same guy who directed “Medicine Man,” “The 13th Warrior,” and “Rollerball”? On that note, director of photography Jan De Bont went on to direct “Speed” as his debut feature, and followed that up with “Speed 2,” “The Haunting,” and “Tomb Raider 2.”
- The Best Picture nominees for 1988, the year “Die Hard” was released, were “Rain Man,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and “Working Girl.” Does anyone want to try and claim that “Die Hard” isn’t better than at least three of those movies? And does anyone want to claim that John McTiernan’s fluid camera work and dynamic staging was less impressive or deserving of recognition than actual Best Director nominees Mike Nichols (“Working Girl”) and Charles Crichton (“A Fish Called Wanda”)? Finally, I admit that I have not seen Best Actor nominee Max von Sydow’s work in “Pelle the Conqueror” or Best Supporting Actor nominee Alec Guinness in “Little Dorrit,” but in hindsight I doubt anyone would be too upset if we swapped them out for Willis and Rickman, respectively.
- Which is the more hilarious edit for television, “Yippe-ky-ya Mr. Falcon” from “Die Hard 2” …
… or changing the sign Bruce is forced to wear in the black neighborhood in “Die Hard with a Vengeance” from “I Hate N—–s” to “I Hate Everybody”? I vote the latter, only because it also makes it even more nonsensical why a bunch of young black men would be so violently enraged at McClane’s vague nihilism toward his fellow man.
So what say you guys, where do you rank “Die Hard” among your top action movies? What are your favorite moments or characters? And seriously what is the deal with the sex- and drug-crazed swingers who collectively make up the workforce of the Nakatomi Corporation?
CJ: “Die Hard” is up there with “Predator,” “Commando,” and very few others as a standard bearer for how the genre should be done. Great action, iconic main character, catchphrase that never get old, solid one-liners throughout, clever plan by the bad guys (even if the rope-a-dope has now been overused), and when your movie turns into “It’d be ‘Die Hard’ except with …” to pitch movies, you know you’ve made a classic. (Kevin: On that note, the best “Die Hard in a …” movie is obviously “Under Siege.” The worst is obviously “The Cider House Rules.”)
Now regarding the party, not only is it weird that they are closing deals and throwing their Christmas party on the 24th, but does anyone else think it’s odd that these are people who work with each other (in a fairly conservative manner, I’d assume), but the second the clock switches from work to party, they went nuts? I can only imagine it now: “Ok guys, well that fax just got sent out and we should be good. Oh hey, the clock just struck 5 p.m. Okay Ellis, why don’t you grab some coke. And Samantha? Off with those panties, sweetie.”
I’m also confused about several things regarding Argyle. Right after Takagi is killed we cut back to Argyle in the back of the limo on the phone, where he’s telling his lady friend that of course he’s coming over that night even though his boss thinks he’s going to Vegas, presumably to pick someone else up. Which leads me to ask, what happened to THAT guy?
Also, given that it’s Christmas Eve AND he’s got plans to presumably bone this chick, why is he so eager to just sit around and wait to hear whether McClane gets back with the wife or if he needs a ride back to Pomona, which is almost an hour away from Los Angeles? Sure, Argyle probably drives around a lot of whiny assholes in Los Angeles and John is probably the first decent guy he’s come across, but it’s still sort of weird that he didn’t just drop him off and give him the number for a cab company. Me, I’d just hand him $20 of my own cash and explain I was on my way to get some ass!
Kevin: Yeah I think people aren’t really listening to Argyle in that scene because what he says makes no sense. He’s been hired to pick up one guy from LAX and drop him off at Nakatomi Plaza, then drive from downtown Los Angeles on Christmas Eve night to pick up someone else in Las Vegas, possibly at that airport? I don’t know, it’s been several years since I was in Vegas but I’m pretty sure it’s still a lot easier to find a limo, or god forbid a cab, there than it is to hire a limo to drive out from L.A. to meet you.
CJ: Apart from that, here are some other thoughts I had while watching “Die Hard” again:
- I remember reading a few years ago that Alan Rickman was not a fan of guns, and that’s why you see him blinking when he fires them in the movie. There’s nothing movie-related here, I just appreciate that he did the best he could instead of deciding this needed to be a cause.
- Speaking of Rickman, he played two excellent bad guys over the course of three years, Hans Gruber AND the Sheriff of Nottingham. Every time I read something about that Robin Hood movie, people always say it sucks. Well I’m here to tell you that THEY in fact are the ones who suck. I love this movie! Casual racism, Christian Slater thinking he would amount to a lot, a Maid Marian who loved Soul Glo, and Kevin Costner wonderfully jumping between American and British accents at will. It had it all!
- One of the best things about John McClane is how badly he doesn’t want to be there. Every other movie features the hero gung-ho on taking down the baddies, or giving some speech about he’s everyone’s best chance. Not John McClane. He spends the first half of the movie desperately trying to get anyone else to come and do this for him.
- Remember when McClane calls 911 and the operator tells him the line is for emergencies only (leading to my favorite line of “No shit lady! Do I sound like I’m ordering a pizza!”)? That always troubled me. Because he calls in with a legit threat and they dismiss him, leading me to believe they dismiss all initial calls to 911 as pranks. All I know is, after I call about an intruder or medical emergency in the city of Los Angeles, it is clear I will need to call back to confirm.
- Kevin I agree Ellis’ Rolex line is fantastic. No one gives Noah Wyle’s older brother (aka Hart Bochner) enough credit for his work as Ellis. Another great line is when he says “Sprechen zie talk” as if he is 100% fluent in German – which is definitely when Hans decided to kill him. Also, as a fun game to play at home, when he says “Hans … bubby!,” picture Christopher Walken. Also, did anyone else notice that when they drag Ellis’ body out no one screams? It’s as if they were all secretly happy, but no one could admit it, so they all just kinda looked around at each other. This also happens right after the terrorist expert on the news mentions they are suffering from “Helsinki Syndrome.” I’m no shrink, so I’ll read nothing into this.
- One thing I always hate in movies is unnecessary dialogue that would sound incredibly weird in real life. This is like when one character needs to point out to another character that they’ve been best friends for 20 years, even though no one else is around them. That brings me to when McClane is trying to ascertain whether Hans knows he is married to Holly or not, and asks Ellis what he’s told Hans. Ellis responds with a really weird, “I told them we were old friends and you were my guest at the party.” Here’s how that should have gone:
Ellis: “I told them we were old friends and you were my guest at the party.”
Hans: “That Holly chick keeps coming to talk to me and her photos indicate no husband. I’m gonna nail her. “
Kevin: Even though this is about “Die Hard,” I also wanted to show some support for “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” which at the time was a huge hit that still took a lot of shit from the critics and even people who kinda liked it. However, after 25 years of horrible summer movies I think we can look back and realize it was a really solid flick: it got dark at times but was still fun, Costner gives it his all and Rickman is great, and they save the best stuff for the end, including the awesome flaming arrow shot and then even more awesome reveal of what happened to the guy on the receiving end of said flaming arrow. Compare that to the Ridley Scott “Robin Hood,” which decided to show us the boring “historically accurate” version of stuff that never actually happened in real life, and saved all the fun and exciting parts for a sequel that will never get made.
Also even though it was not nearly as memorable, for the sake of completeness we should note that “Quigley Down Under” with Tom Selleck, which came out between “Die Hard” and “Robin Hood,” is the third film in Rickman’s villain trilogy from 1988-1991.
Mike: It seems like Kevin has a lock on the action portion of this review, so I’m going to come at “Die Hard” from another angle.
In the opening of the film, John McClane states that he has been on the force for 11 years, which would probably make him about 33 years old, which was Bruce Willis’ actual age at the time of filming … which is younger than anyone working on this website. Let’s just let that painful fact set in for a few moments. I miss heroes who were actually young but looked older. A big part of the 80’s was looking old, that’s what everybody seemed to want. That’s why everyone wore pastel grandma clothes and big ass wire-frame glasses. For some reason that kind of behavior went a long way in the 80’s and included our action stars. Now we have people like Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an action star, and he doesn’t look like he can handle shit. “Who’s he?,” you ask? He’s nobody, forget him. Bruce Willis was 33 going on 43, talking like he was 53, and that’s how we liked it!
Let’s move along to when John McClane enters the Sodom and Gomorrah that is Nakatomi Plaza, because a few noteworthy things happen on the downlow that some of you may have missed.
Almost immediately a homosexual man grabs McClane by the face and plants a kiss on his cheek. This is a cop who has been on the force in New York City throughout the infamous AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, and he was no doubt programmed to believe that if you talked to your gay cousin on the telephone you were probably going to have HIV before you hung up. But this is John McClane, a man who fears nothing and is very secure in his sexuality, so he laughs it off and moves right along like the progressive thinker he is. McClane was a trendsetter.
From there he enters Holly’s office to discover Ellis sitting at her desk doing cocaine all by himself. Now I hate to keep harping on the 1980s, but in what universe is there a party in 1987 and the person with cocaine isn’t the most popular guy in the room? There should have been more people in Holly’s office than outside of it, and when Ellis finally got capped they all would have tipped their hats to the great man that made it snow in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.
In the following scene, while McClane and Holly are in Ellis’ private bathroom, not one, not two, but three people barge in there without knocking. Maybe in another draft of the script Ellis was the insanely popular god among men I like to think he was, but we’ll never know. Regardless, this is still a bathroom! Doesn’t anyone knock first? These Nakatomi employees must really be a crazy band of swingers, Holly included.
And as long as we are talking about Argyle, how is it that Argyle does not realize there is another car in the underground parking garage until the very end? Then he notices an ambulance drives out of the box truck and his first impulse is to ram it?! By the way, he’s pretty quick to ram the ambulance, but for some reason he won’t crash the limo through the gate to escape. When he finally does come barreling through the gate the police just let Argyle drive right up to Holly and John and they get in and drive off into the sunrise. Between the “Die Hard” movies, “Hudson Hawk,” and “The Last Boy Scout,” I’m fairly certain we’ve just been watching a series of fever dreams that Bruce Willis has been having for the past 61 years.
Kevin: Also, which is it, is the gate too tough to ram through or not, because Argyle does it pretty easily at the end. Or did all the explosions somehow weaken the gate’s stability? Because I’m not sure if you know this, but according to Rosie O’Donnell fire doesn’t melt steel, and if you set off enough controlled charges in a building … well actually we should probably save that for a different forum.
Back to the matter at hand, I have to disagree Mike with your assessment of John McClane as some open-minded progressive. I went back to the game tape and watched his reaction to getting probably his first kiss from a man, and this is what the aftermath of that looked like:
I ask you, does that look like a 1980s New Age kind of man who is open to moving away from outdated cis gender masculine stereotypes and embracing a more fluid and open sexual identity (aka any Commie-loving dirtbag who voted for Dukakis that year)? Doesn’t look like it to me. Also, right afterward McClane wipes the kiss off his check and for the second time in the movie dismissively says “California,” which might as well be his way of saying “No homo.” McClane gave it his best in the land of coke-snorting degenerates and Jewish movie producers like Joel Silver, but I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that we’ve never seen him back on the West Coast since the first movie.
One more thing to add to the “What The Fuck Is Up With These Nakatomi Weirdos?” evidence file: Even though this appears to be an expensive and elegant party with violinists playing classical music, when McClane enters he’s immediately given a small plastic cup filled with what looks like Cherry NyQuil. This is his reaction upon drinking it …
… at which point he immediately gives it back. Being a veteran cop, did he perhaps detect that the drink was spiked with something illegal, such as rohypnol? Seriously, that looks like the kind of drink I would be suspicious of at a rave, much less the Christmas party of a multinational conglomerate that just signed a major deal. What I want to know is, if Hans and his crew hadn’t showed up, could we even begin to imagine the level of debauchery that would have been unleashed?
While we ponder that, let me just conclude this for now by saying that I am legitimately freaked out realizing that Bruce Willis was a lot younger than me when he filmed “Die Hard.” Not only do I question what I’ve done with my life, but I question what everyone has done with their lives at this point.
That’s it for Part 1 of our “Die Hard” Round Table, come back for Part 2 on Christmas Day as we:
- Appreciate the quiet professionalism and fashion choices of Hans Gruber’s team, except for Karl’s sweatpants-wearing brother.
- Enjoy the sociopathic comedy stylings of Agents Johnson and Johnson.
- Rank the sequels from best to worst (the unanimous number 1 is of course “A Good Day to Die Hard”).
- Mike ponders whether the entire movie is a plot to force women out of the workplace.
- CJ finds the humor in Al Powell’s tragic kid-killing backstory.
- And Anthony closes us out with a touching ode to the late Alan Rickman set to the strains of “Baby Got Back.”