Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Film Appreciation - Yippee Ki Yay, Motherf---er!

Film Appreciation takes an action-packed turn as Jay Burleson stops by the Nakatomi Plaza to revisit Die Hard.

DIE HARD (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan
Starring Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, and Reginald VelJohnson

My cousins and I used to run around in the yard pretending to be John McClane, shooting the bad guys, saving the good ones, and jumping through as many imaginary windows as possible. I carried this routine over to Christmas at my grandmother's house as well, and it never mattered if I had anyone to play with or not. It was very fulfilling to imagine myself as John McClane, the modern day cowboy who always seemed to find himself in a sticky situation, only to find a way to make it equally sticky for the bad guys who got him into the mess in the first place.

The first Die Hard film was introduced to me as a kid, and the calm, cool demeanor of Bruce Willis as John McClane was an instant hit. Willis's McClane is a cop from New York who finds himself visiting his wife Holly in Los Angeles for the holidays. The two separated when Holly took a job opportunity which didn't go over very well with the alpha male McClane. He arrives in LA and is taken by limo to the Nakatomi Plaza where Holly works. The first real interaction McClane has in the film is with his limo driver, Argyle, who ends up playing a pretty entertaining secondary role in the film. This film is full of colorful secondary characters, as is much of the entire Die Hard franchise.

Upon his arrival to Nakatomi, McClane quickly discovers that his wife has started going by her maiden name and before the two can kiss and make up, they quickly begin to bicker. The argument is cut short as Holly is called away, and it's then that all hell breaks loose as the building is taken hostage by the film's main protagonist, Hans Gruber, and his gang of "terrorist" buddies. McClane manages to slip away from the initial action and begins to use his police skills to take out the bad guys and attempt to save the day.

Die Hard is an action film, but would not be the success it is if it weren't for the strong character development, as well as the wonderful dynamic between Hans Gruber and John McClane. Alan Rickman is a great bad guy, partly because he's very charming and hard to dislike. If you encountered his character in an elevator and only knew him as the man you shared a few words with on your way to the next floor, you'd probably walk away thinking he was a swell guy. Only he's not. There are so many interesting characters and subplots here that there's never a dull moment. It's an extremely well-layered film and doesn't at all feel like an overblown action film. I'm guessing a lot of this comes from the fact that it was based on a novel by Roderick Thorp.

One of the highlights of the film is police officer Al Powell, played by Reginald VelJohnson. Powell gets called to Nakatomi after McClane finally succeeds in attracting the attention of the police. Powell is moments away from leaving the scene without understanding the seriousness of the situation when McClane tosses a body from high above and sends it directly onto Powell's police car. The two then forge a bond as they talk back and forth during the remainder of the film. Al shares an emotional story with McClane about how he mistakenly shot an unarmed teenager while on duty. He explains that since then he has not been able to pull his weapon on anyone.

Other interesting plot devices include Holly's hotshot coworker, Ellis, attempting to "talk John down" and insisting to Gruber that he can be successful in doing so. When John doesn't give in to Ellis, Gruber does not hesitate to kill him. There's also the big waiting game over when Gruber will discover that one of his hostages is the wife of the man giving him so much trouble. Of course this happens right before the climax of the film, and plays out quite nicely.

By the end, John McClane has been through hell and back, and it shows. I always loved the detail they put into making McClane look like a complete mess. He's been through shootout after shootout and the grime and grit follows suit. Another interesting angle is the constant use of action movie and western film references between Gruber and McClane. It's useful to center our hero in a more real world setting. He's not a time traveling cyborg or a quick gunslinger from the old west who dispatches his enemies with little blood and even less headache. Instead we get an average, everyday cop from New York who can't even get a good pair of shoes on his feet.

The film is full of wonderful one liners, most delivered by John McClane. One of my favorites is when McClane contacts an emergency line in order to notify the police of the hostile takeover. When the woman informs McClane that the line he has contacted is for emergencies, he sarcastically barks back, "No fucking shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?"  Another fan favorite stems from a conversation revolving around the aforementioned western film angle that takes place between McClane and Hans Gruber. Anyone who has seen a Die Hard film knows the line I'm talking about. Yippee ki yay, motherfucker!

Die Hard is still one of my favorite, if not my favorite, action movies of all time. I'm not a huge action movie guy so that's not saying a hell of a lot, but Die Hard is a great film and one that I will always carry with me. I'm also a fan of some of the other entries in the series and may write about them at a later date. This one is probably the most well made and realistic of the series, and it's definitely the most well-rounded. While it's still grand in its own right, it's definitely the most believable Die Hard film, and that really does help add a lot to the emotional feel. It's the most contained in terms of scope as well, but I love that aspect, as I'm always up for another trip to the Nakatomi Plaza.

1 comment:

  1. Good write-up! Die Hard is a classic!...Bruce Willis at his best.