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25 Days of Christmas: Die Hard (1988)

I swear there are times where I’m a guy trapped in a girl’s body.  If you’ve been keeping up with my 25 Days of Christmas you’ll notice I raved about the 2004 hockey film Miracle.  Well I’m devoting tonight’s entry to the most macho, “dude” film out there, the 1988 John McTiernan/Bruce Willis action film Die Hard.  I’ve loved Die Hard ever since I saw it for the first time about 5 years ago and I’ve watched the great (the first), the awesome (the third), and the crap (the fourth).  I haven’t watched Die Hard 2, something about the “directed by Renny Harlin” tagline just puts me off from seeing it.  Either way Die Hard is the Christmas film for the person who enjoys guns, machismo, and copious amounts of the F-word.

John McClane (Willis) is visiting his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) in Los Angeles.  Holly works for the Nakatomi Corporation which is hosting its annual Christmas party at the new Nakatomi Plaza.  As John and his wife get into some verbal sparring, a band of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the party, kill Holly’s boss, and hold the partygoers for ransom.  Their plans aren’t as simple as that and as John hides out in a still-under-construction part of the building, he’s left to figure out how to get the hostages out and take out the bad guys.

This movie is just great 80s action.  I haven’t dabbled as much as I probably should in the 80s action genre but there’s something about John McClane, the everyman who always ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time that’s so identifiable.  Willis plays the character genuinely and not at all like a guy with superhuman strength.  He’s not burly Sylvester Stallone, he’s just an average cop.  When he calls 911 and gets told the lines for emergencies only, he responds like anyone would in that situation: with a lot of profanity!  The script is mostly composed of John just cursing, but it works with the character.  How exactly would you handle a group of terrorists taking over your Christmas party.  I guarantee most wouldn’t be John McClane, they’d be more like that pregnant chick that just cries and sits on her ass.

With such a great hero you must have any equally amazing bad guy, and Hans Gruber is ICONIC!  I have to admit the only reason I watched this movie in the first place was because of Alan Rickman, the guy is fantastic (and the best part of Die Hard 3 is Jeremy Irons…these movies sure could cast back in the day).  Gruber is smooth, dashing, and in any other movie would probably be the hero.  He comes in and just dominates.  When he says he’s gonna kill someone on the count of 3 “and there will not be a 4″….let’s just say he’s not joking.  He’s dangerous, manipulative, and just the quintessential villain.  Alexander Godunov is also a oft-mentioned great villain as the vengeful Karl.  The guy gets the best death scene (come on that’s not a spoiler, this is an 80s movie of course all will be right with the world at the end).

The movie is delightfully campy and is pretty illogical, but again I can’t stress this enough: 80s action movie!  Sure there’s no way in Hell the reporter played by William Atherton would have a job after exploiting John McClane’s kids on national television and putting John and Holly at risk.  I mean he finds their house, threatens their Mexican maid with INS (and apparently she must have been a little less than legal to go along with said threat.  I think Ms. Holly is employing illegal immigrants), and pulls a 5-year-old girl out on television saying her parents are probably being threatened right at this very moment!  I mean come on, punching this guy in the face is not enough, I’d be pressing charges.  Also, the police are obviously idiots as seen in most 80s films.  Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, played by the perfectly smarmy Paul Gleason, probably shouldn’t have been Deputy anything with the amount of piss-poor decisions he makes.

I also Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) to be kind of annoying.  I mean I know he’s supposed to be the sweet, dependable, good cop of the film that helps out John McClane via radio.  He’ll always be the dad from Family Matters to me but that’s beside the point.  He just doesn’t do much till the end when he shoots someone in an attempt to save John’s life.  This is a man who openly admits to McClane he shot and killed a boy by confusing a toy gun for a real one.  Of course let’s have him shoot someone else, only this time he’ll be right dammit!  Of course without him we wouldn’t have the sweet homoerotic love story between him and McClane.  I mean when he spots McClane, all dirty and disheveled from a night of shooting terrorists and breaking necks, from across the room (mind you he has no idea what McClane looks like) and hugs him…you can feel the unrequited love there.  One of the first bromances I’d reckon although I’m open to someone proving me wrong.

Die Hard is the Christmas film for action freaks, plain and simple.  The action is relentless, and fantastically executed.  The script has just the right amount of dry humor, and some dynamite acting courtesy of Rickman and Willis.  These two guys need to reunite on another film!

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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