John McTiernan’s Die Hard is the perfect example of the Hollywood studio system getting moviemaking right. 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 a slew of A-listers.
However, there is much more to Die Hard than Willis’ star-making turn and McTiernan’s deft direction. The film’s script by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart (based on a novel by Roderick Thorp) sizzles, Jan DeBont’s cinematography is luscious and Michael Kamen’s score is pitch-perfect. The supporting cast is also a knock-out. It is hard to believe that this is Alan Rickman’s first film – his performance as the villainous Hans Gruber is flawless.
McTiernan knows how to stage action. He sets up the geography of the film; we know where everything is and what is happening where. In fact, the Nakatomi Tower is as much of a character in Die Hard as any one of its actors. The wear and tear that building undergoes mirrors the beatings that the shoeless McClane takes over the course of the film.
Where 2013’s A Good Day To Die Hard goes wrong is with the action – there’s just too damn much of it. What made the other Die Hard movies work was the set-up. They took their time to establish the plot and the characters, and then the action kicked in. However, John Moore’s movie is a non-stop demolition derby of CGI-enhanced destruction. The first three Die Hard movies felt plausible, with Bruce Willis’ John McClane taking beatings and showing the wear and tear, even if he was leaping from the top of a skyscraper, ejecting himself from an exploding plane or surfing a truck through a water filled tunnel.
2007’s Live Free Or Die Hard upped the ante, and we saw McClane driving a car into a helicopter and leaping onto the wing of a jet fighter, but this fifth instalment sees the iconic character take on near super-heroic traits. I have no idea how many plate glass windows he runs through in this film – without even getting a scratch.