In the Sixties, author Roderick Thorp wrote a novel, The Detective, which was turned into a movie, starring Frank Sinatra in the title role of Joe Leland. A sequel was written, in which Joe becomes trapped in the Claxxon Oil Corporation skyscraper after it is taken over by German terrorists and he has to rescue his daughter and grandchildren. Two decades later, the skyscraper becomes Nakatomi, the daughter becomes the wife, Leland becomes John McClane and the title becomes Die Hard.

To say that Die Hard sets new standards for action movies is like calling Bill Gates well off. The movie was so innovative and groundbreaking that dozens of rip-offs followed - Passenger 57, Under Siege, Cliffhanger, Sudden Death, et al. Hostage/terrorist movies were all the rage in the early Nineties.

Copy picture

Very few came close, because Die Hard had so many strong points, not least of which was Alan Rickman's marvellous performance, as Hans Gruber - also the name of the villain in Our Man Flint - the classically educated, smartly dressed terrorist leader. This is not some hammy guy in a chainmail shirt with spikes on his gloves (Commando). Gruber would have been well at home on Wall Street.

His plan is to break into the vault on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Plaza and take away $640million in negotiable bearer bonds. When he and his 12 European henchmen round up the office workers, who are enjoying a Christmas Eve party, one man slips away unnoticed. He is John McClane, a New York cop who has come to LA to settle down with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). The odds are against him. But that's just the way he likes it.

The terrorists even have names. And we remember them. Most action movies these days have unidentified heavies, played by stunt men, who are lined up and knocked over.

In his battle to save his Holly, McClane is scorched, torched, beaten and blown up. He jumps off the roof and falls through air ducts. He uncovers deception and double-cross and picks broken glass out of his bare feet. No help comes from the naive and incompetent police, who are unable to get inside, and even less from the FBI.

McClane is not a supercop. He is an ordinary guy, who doesn't want a fight. When he is shot, he bleeds. He hurts. All he has are his pants, his vest, his gun - which runs out of ammo. This is the first realistic connection the audience has. When you don't want to be in McClane's position, it makes for much excitement.

John McTiernan, who's only previous mainstream movie was Predator, uses awesome photography and technical skills to give the film a truly polished and sophisticated look - it was nominated for four technical Academy Awards. He also allows for enough time for decent character development, most of which comes between McClane and a cop (Reginald Veljohnson) he makes friends with on a CB radio.

Die Hard manages to be heart-pounding and teeth-gritting every single time. And if you are one of those many people who have only ever been able to watch it on TV then now is definitely the time to rediscover a cool, classic and creative action picture, which gets the Gator MacReady Claw of Approval.

Reviewed on: 15 Feb 2002
Share this with others on...
Die Hard packshot
Bruce Willis is a lone cop in an office skyscraper, taken over by terrorists.
Amazon link

Read more Die Hard reviews:

Stephen Carty ****

Director: John McTiernan

Writer: Jeb Stuart, Steven E DeSouza, based on Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Gudonov, Reginald Veljohnson, William Atherton

Year: 1988

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Bradford 2010

Search database:


If you like this, try:

Casino Royale
The Transporter