Movie Review: DIE HARD (1988)

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

DIE HARD, 1988
Movie Reviews

Directed by John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason
Review by Kabir Shukla

Visiting his estranged wife for Christmas in her office building in LA, New York City cop John McClane finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A group of German terrorists have held everyone hostage at gunpoint, leaving only McClane to foil their plan. Equipped with his pistol and bare feet, McClane must figure out a way to stop the terrorists and save his wife’s life before it’s too late.


This is a must-see for any Bruce Willis or action movie fan. In the role that launched his career, Willis does not disappoint as John McClane. His portrayal of an everyday, struggling cop, with personal and family issues, and an uncanny ability to stay alive, is spot on. He is perfect for this role. And ironically, he was the studio’s 5th choice to play John McClane. The first was Ahhhnold, and the fourth was Richard Gere (yes THAT Richard Gere). So it seems everyone lucked out when Willis got the job.

Making his big screen debut, Alan Rickman fills the role of the sociopathic German villan-mastermind, Hans Gruber, perfectly. Long before he donned the black wig and cloak as Severus Snape, he was Hans Gruber, a true 80’s villain. Having done only TV roles before, Rickman proved early why he was cut out to be a Hollywood actor. Though his role didn’t require an overt dramatic portrayal, he was very convincing in every scene.

Also in the film, who you may recognize, is Reginald VelJohnson as Sergeant Powell. To some, he is better known as Carl Winslow. This movie was made one year before “Family Matters” debuted, so we cannot say that he is reprising his role as a beat patrol cop here, but it seems to be something he does well. He plays the, at first bumbling clueless policeman, who in the end is an integral role in the film’s ultimate conclusion. He also seems to know every ingredient in the Twinkie off the top of his head (he literally lists them without hesitation).

Director John McTiernan was just coming off directing “Predator” a year earlier when he directed Die Hard. So he must have still had some adrenaline in his blood when he brought this action-packed thrill ride to the big screen. McTieman decided to scrap the stock gun and bullet sound effects for the real thing. He used custom-made extra-loud blanks for each gun. In addition, he used the sound of live rounds from each gun recorded at a firing range to dub over the gunshot noises when necessary. You can tell. The guns are louder and the muzzle flashes are brighter. In addition, to add to the grittiness, he chose to go with the big-boy squibs. So when a man gets shot, the blood shooting out lets you know that he’s not getting up.

But enough about the players, lets get to the movie.

Die Hard has the dry wit mixed with action that has kept the franchise going for its 19-year and 4 movie lifespan. Always breaking the tension with a quick one-liner, the timing and delivery is perfect for the subtle, yet noticeable comedic element to the movie. Also noticeable is a 32-year-old Bruce Willis with a full head of real hair, which is something that we need the photo-album to see now.

The plot is pretty straightforward. McClane is visiting his wife at her office Christmas party in LA. In this building are bonds of $600 million. Gruber and his associates take over the building, hold the workers hostage and hatch their plan to steal the money. What they did not expect was McClane to be there. The movie follows McClane as he must fight and shoot his way to stopping Gruber’s plan from succeeding. He befriends Sergeant Powell, a policeman on the ground outside the building who helps him stay sane. The other officers are not so friendly.

The rest goes as expected. McClane shoots, the bad guys shoot back. McClane punches, the bad guys punch back (namely a blond Fabio look-alike). In the end, who will outlast the other? I suppose you have to watch to find out.

The movie flows very well. I have no gripes. We all know that the bad guys don’t shoot very accurately and the good guys never run out of bullets. But one clichÈ that I don’t like in this movie is Paul Gleason’s (R.I.P.) portrayal of the deputy police chief Dwayne Robinson. While Powell knows that McClane is doing his best to help the situation, Robinson insists that Mclane is even worse than Gruber and the other terrorists. His decisions sometimes do not make sense, as his only agenda is to contradict McClane to prove is own point. In reality, I think we know that personal issues would be put aside in a hostage situation as this. Logic would prevail. But in a film, there needs to be an anti-hero on the good guys’ team to increase the dramatic element. Enter deputy police chief Dwayne Robinson.

Now please do not misconstrue this peccadillo as anything more than that. I just feel I have to present the good with the bad. In the case of Die Hard, the good far outweighs the bad, but again, I must present both.

For those of you who love to look for continuity errors, you will be pleased to know that the Die Hard(s) are notorious for them. I won’t give away where and when, because frankly I don’t know all of them, but in many instances McClane goes from dirty to clean to dirty again and from wearing this to not wearing it to wearing it again many times. If you are watching the movie for the X’th time, it may be fun to look for them. You’ll be surprised to see how many things you missed the first time around.

So if you want my overall take, which I assume you do if you have read this far, is that Die Hard is a MUST SEE. If you have a heartbeat and a Y chromosome, you will love this movie. The action is non-stop, Willis is spot on, and the suspense is palpable. This movie really set the tone for future action films. Anyone who claims to be a fan of the genre has seen this movie. Anyone who wants to be must watch it immediately.


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