Christmas the Hard way

Celebrate the day as if it's your last

Published: Dec 25 2013, 01:01:am

Friday, July 15, 1988
DIE HARD. Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, based on Roderick Thorpe's novel Nothing Lasts Forever (1979). Music by Michael Kamen. Directed by John McTiernan. Running time: 132 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: frequent violence,very coarse language, swearing.
ACTION! HIS BODY craves it.
    Alone, barefoot and shirtless on the skeletal 32nd floor of L.A.'s Nakatomi Plaza, John McClane (Bruce Willis) feels the adrenaline surging within him, feels the animal need to fight or flee.
    Can't let it be in control!
        Use it!
            Focus it!
    Think, man, think!
        Remember that you're a cop, McClane, a New York City cop!
            Make sense of it, then
    The party was on the 30th floor, the Christmas celebration of the Nakatomi Corporation. He'd come directly from the airport to see his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), a successful executive with the dynamic, Japanese-owned multinational.
    After six months apart, he hoped that they could reconcile their differences. He was cleaning up in an office en suite when he saw the guns — government issue sub-machine guns; H&K MP-5s? — and the hardened killers carrying them.
    They'd broken into the building with military precision. He'd acted instinctively, making it to the unfinished upper storey. There were at least a dozen of them, professional and armed to the teeth.
    McClane is on his own, shoeless and suffering from jet lag. But he is in possession of his service Baretta 92. He has the element of surprise. McClane is scared, angry and determined to Die Hard.
    Action films. They exist to excite us, bypassing the brain to grab the gut and get our adrenaline flowing.
    John McTiernan knows the drill. Last year [1987], the young director displayed his mastery of the slam-bang action style with a visceral Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle called Predator.    
    This year, he's back with Die Hard, a film designed to make a big screen star out of television series player Bruce Willis. With it, McTiernan demonstrates an ability to connect with the cerebellum as well as the solar plexus, paying filmgoers the compliment of offering them a breathless action feature that manages to make sense every step of the way.
    Based on Roderick Thorpe's novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Die Hard is a smart, cynical tale of entrepreneurial terrorists. Led by the ruthless, urbane Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the mixed Euro-American gang anticipates the authorities' every move, and is prepared for every contingency.
    Except, of course, John McClane.
    As written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, this is an all-American sergeants epic. The scripters' cynicism extends to the lawmen, and their spare, efficient tale portrays officers — including an LAPD deputy chief (Paul Gleason) and a pair of FBI special agents — as either inept or perfidious.
    As the out-of-town cop called upon to be a hero, Willis is as good as he's ever been. His desperate, driven performance is the centrepiece of an unstoppable urban adventure.
    A solid action package that sparkles with icy wit, Die Hard celebrates Christmas in July.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Intended or not, the original Die Hard is the 21st century Christmas classic. Here is a movie that reveals the dirty truth about our annual Xmas excess: it's a commercialized ordeal to be survived for the sake of family. Its tale accepts the reality of the free market's midwinter revelry, a festival that derives its "meaning" from sales statistics. Its hero, John McClane, has come to town on Christmas Eve hoping for a quiet reconciliation with his wife, an executive who is celebrating with her corporate "family."  Here, the unexpected guests at the party turn out to be terrorists. Honouring the spirit of the occasion requires John to deck the halls with bodies for his Holly.  Anyone who has run the obstacle course that is the modern yuletide, endured the guilt-inducing ads, suffered its music and borne the seasonal entertainments, knows the feeling. For me, Die Hard is the movie that tells it as it is.

     Filmgoers in the Vancouver area are fortunate to have in the Rio Theatre an independent art house with a sense of the season. This Friday evening (Dec.27), Die Hard returns to the big screen, the feature attraction in its Late Night Movie series.

Christmas Countdown:  Mixed Nuts (1994); Black Christmas (1974); Home Alone (1990); The Ref (1994); Santa Claus - The Movie (1985); Prancer (1989); One Magic Christmas (1985); Nobody's Fool (1994); Gremlins (1984); Scrooged (1988); A Christmas Story (1983);