The family of Bruce Willis has announced that the 67-year-old star is “stepping away” from acting because of health issues. Willis has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition which impacts cognitive abilities – it can affect speech, as well as the way people write and understand spoken and written language.
This is sad news. Movies In Focus heard about Willis’ health issues last year when someone reached out to me after I wrote a review about one of his recent films. Like many, I unfortunately mocked Willis and the film – and it’s something that I apologise for. It was wrong of me to do that.
Over the last decade, Bruce Willis has starred in a multitude of low budget thrillers – usually only spending a day or two on set, collecting a million dollars or more for his work. Glimpses of him wearing an earpiece for line readings were sometimes seen in these movies and it’s now obvious that this was to assist with his performances.
During the promotion of RED 2, I had the opportunity to tell Willis how much I enjoyed Hudson Hawk – a maligned movie which is actually rather brilliant. He appeared bashful and thanked me for my comments.
The actor did the best work of his career in the mid-late ‘90s, starring in the likes of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Nobody’s Fool, 12 Monkeys and The Sixth Sense. That’s an impressive run of critically acclaimed movies that made some good bank at the box office (The Sixth Sense is the biggest commercial hit of Willis’ career) Willis always felt he was a character actor trapped in the body of a star and, much like Sean Connery, he spent a lot of time trying to subvert his image by taking roles in off-beat films.
What can you say about Moonlighting other than it was the greatest television show of the 1980s? Bruce Willis was born to play wise-cracking Private Detective David Addison and he makes for a great foil against Cybil Shepherd’s down on her luck model.The scripts for Glenn Gordon Caron created show sparkled and the banter between Willis and Shepherd was always electric. The one-liners are delivered thick and fast. TV doesn’t rarely got any better than that.
When Die Hard was released in the summer of 1988 Bruce Willis was known primarily as a comedic television actor, and he only won the role of John McClane when it was turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger (it is often erroneously believed to have been developed as a sequel to Commando), Richard Gere and a slew of other stars.
Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2: Die Harder might lack the claustrophobic feel of it’s predecessor, but the sequel is almost as good as the original. Willis‘ John McClane once again fights terrorists on Christmas Eve – something which makes him the equivalent of an ass-kicking elf. This time the action takes place in Washington’s Dulles International Airport as McClane’s wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) circles the airport from above. If Die Hard was like The Towering Inferno, then Die Hard 2 is the equivalent to Airport.
Movies In Focus has a pretty controversial take on this one: Brian De Palma‘s The Bonfire Of The Vanities is hugely underrated adaptation of Tom Wolfe‘s epic novel – and one of De Palma’s best films. Is it as good as the book? Of course not, but this is still and enjoyable romp. The tone of the film might be different from Wolfe’s tome, but this is a slick piece of Hollywood moviemaking. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that Willis gives a wonderful performance as sleazy journalist, Peter Fallow and that Tom Hanks is great as Sherman McCoy, The Master Of The Universe. The rest of the cast is also great.
The Bonfire Of The Vanities keeps getting better with age and it doesn’t really deserve its soiled reputation. It comes highly recommended and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Having said that – maybe it’s not for everyone.
Michael Lehmann‘s Hudson Hawk is an under-appreciated masterpiece. The 1991 Bruce Willis starrer may have been hammered by the press and bombed at the US box office, but it’s fantastic fun. The humour may be a required taste, but if you embrace the film you’ll be rewarded for it. The supporting cast is great – Danny Aiello, Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard all deliver. However, this is Willis’ show and he’s at his charismatic best here. The action set pieces are well staged – as are the musical numbers and the Michael Kamen‘s score is wonderful.
Director Robert Benton‘s adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s acclaimed novel Billy Bathgate was seen as one of the movies to beat in 1991. It appeared to be poised to clean-up at the box office – and on the awards circuit. However, appearances can me deceptive.
Billy Bathgate had an hefty budget (for the time) of $48 million and an impressive cast: Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman (then up and coming), Steven Hill, Steve Buscemi, Stanley Tucci and Bruce Willis in a minor supporting role. Willis was coming off Hudson Hawk from the previous summer and Bonfire Of The Vanities the year before. While The Last Boy Scout was a modest hit in 1991 and Robert Altman’s The Playerwould give him good notices in 1992, he wouldn’t really bounce back until Pulp Fiction in 1994.
The impact that Quentin Tarantino had on cinema in the 1990s can not be understated. Budgeted at $1.2 million, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs was a small movie that grossed less than $3 million worldwide. However, as time went by Tarantino’s debut captured the attention of critics and cult cineasts, before seeping its way into pop culture. All eyes were on Tarantino for his follow-up and the writer-director had Hollywood at his feet.
1994’s Pulp Fiction was a modern noir made up from a series of interconnected tales set within the Los Angeles criminal underworld. The film packed a visceral punch with its snappy dialogue, rich characterisation and excellent soundtrack. Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames and Uma Thurman the film was not just a huge hit with the public and critics, but it was a cultural phenomenon and spawned a host of imitators.
Inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée, Terry Gilliam‘s 12 Monkeys sees Bruce Willis sent back in time to stop the release of a virus which all but wipeout humanity. He’s mistaken for a mental patient by Madeleine Stowe‘s psychiatrist. The 1995 movie has several Gilliam flourishes on a visual level, but the whole thing is played straight.
Michael Bay‘s 1998 film, Armageddon is totally preposterous – but it’s great fun. You need to embrace the concept or you’ll never enjoy this Jerry Bruckheimer produced disaster movie.The oil-riggers on an asteroid flick has a great cast – Bruce Willis headlines the film, while Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, William Fichtner and Owen Wilson co-star. They all make the most of the one-liner heavy script (it has six credit writers!). The action set-pieces are exceptionally well staged and the visual effects are first-rate. It’s a shame about the over-editing in the last act – but it’s not enough to ruin the movie.
M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Sixth Sense opened in the US on 6 August 1999. It came out of nowhere in late summer, and scored $293 million in the US and $379 million in foreign territories for a $672.8 million global total. It was the second highest grossing film of the year behind Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The Sixth Sense is known for its twist ending where the audience discovers that Bruce Willis‘ Dr. Malcom Crowe has been one of the ‘dead people’ that Haley Joel Osment‘s Cole Sear has been seeing throughout the movie. It’s a great twist to be sure, but the film is loaded with gems.
Shymalan’s script is top-notch, filled with rich characterisation. James Newton Howard’s score is haunting and Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is beautiful. The film’s performances are also brilliant and Osment and Toni Collette (as his mother) are flawless and Willis has never been better.
Chances are you’ve never heard Breakfast Of Champions, a comedy starring Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte and Albert Finney. Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel, the Alan Rudolph directed film (he also wrote the screenplay), was barely given a release a back in 1999, but if you can find it and get past the tough first 20 minutes, it’s worth watching. Budgeted at $12 million, Breakfast Of Champions grossed just $178,278 at the US box office.
The Whole Nine Yards is fun comedy featuring Matthew Perry‘s finest big screen performance (it’s really his film). Willis plays the tough guy (and he plays it a little too straight) but he seems to be having fun sparring with Perry. The supporting cast is also game – with Amanda Peet, Michael Clarke Duncan, Natasha Henstridge and Kevin Pollak all doing good work. You get the feeling that everyone had a good time making it.
M. Night Shyamalan followed-up The Sixth Sense with another first rate film. Unbreakable has a great cast and a great script, which make this an unmissable piece of cinema. Willis gives a nuanced performance in the lead role (Shyamalan knows how to get the best out of him) and Samuel L. Jackson is also strong in a supporting role. Admittedly, it’s not as good as The Sixth Sense (what could be?), Unbreakable is still a very strong film. The core concept of taking the super hero genre and updating it is a good one but this is played like a straight drama – and it’s all the better for it.
Wes Anderson’s 2021 film Moonrise Kingdom saw Willis shake-off years of tough guy roles to show us that there was still a wonderful actor lurking beneath his screen persona. In 2019’s Glass, Willis re-united with Shyamalan for a sequel to Unbreakable. Willis is the best he’s been in years in the film, delivering a textured performance which illustrates why Bruce Willis became one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
Here’s the full statement from Bruce Willis’ family:
To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities. As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.
This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support. We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him.
As Bruce always says, “Live it up” and together we plan to do just that.
Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel, & Evelyn