Happy December!! It's our Holiday Movie Review Month: "Die Hard"

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NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) becomes the only hope for a small group of hostages, one of whom is his estranged wife, trapped in a high-rise L.A. office building that's been seized by a group of terrorists on Christmas Eve. At the helm of the heist is evil mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Based on a novel by Roderick Thorp and directed by John McTiernan, Die Hard is the first of five films in the ultra successful action series.

Happy December!! It's our Holiday Movie Review Month: "Die Hard"

Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes
Release Date: July 22, 1988
Directed by: John McTiernan
Genre: Action, Thriller

When the now epic "Die Hard" movie was first released in 1988, it seemed as if Christmas had come in July that year, and not because the story takes place during the Christmas season. Rather, the movie felt like a gift from Hollywood—a near-perfect blockbuster action movie filled with snappy one-liners, a host of memorable characters, and an abundance of explosions.

New York City Police Department detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Los Angeles to attempt a reconciliation with his estranged wife, Holly Gennaro McClane (Bonnie Bedelia). McClane arrives at Holly's office Christmas Eve party at the steel-and-glass tower of Nakatomi Plaza. Shortly after, the holiday party is crashed by a group of expertly trained German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). The terrorists are attempting to break into a highly secured corporate vault to steal the $6 million in bonds held within. McClane is aided by a sympathetic Los Angeles police officer, Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson), who is the first to arrive on the scene and serves as McClane's sole ally and supporter through much of the film via a walkie-talkie lifted from McClane's first victim.

McClane is an ordinary man who accomplishes heroic feats when he is thrust into extraordinary circumstances. He is driven by fear for his life and by love for his wife. Constantly questioning himself and palpably fearing death, McClane is an everyday hero—flawed but loveable. Forced into a terrible situation by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is clearly in over his head. He is also clearly human, willing to risk life and limb in order to save the love of his life.

The barefoot, tank top-wearing McClane is trapped in a skyscraper full of lethal terrorists and survives on instinct alone. However, he is not truly alone in the film, and there is more to "Die Hard" than just the main hero. In addition to the urbane villain Hans Gruber, McClane's ballsy wife, and pencil-pushing Al, other strong characters include former ballet star Alexander Godunovas one of the terrorists and Hart Bochner, who plays a loudmouth cokehead who nearly gets everyone killed. In addition to having a host of enjoyable characters, "Die Hard" is also brilliant, suspenseful, and witty, as well as chock-full of impressively engineered special effects.

In addition to the standard blockbuster cinematic elements, "Die Hard" utilizes symbolic imagery throughout. A persistent example of this symbolism contrasts the extremes of wide-open expanses occupied by the villains and the claustrophobic crawlspaces of the building's air ducts. Another example of symbolic imagery is found in the scene in which McClane and Powell dialogue via radio. As McClane confesses his failures as a husband, he sits in front of a mirror and extracts shards of glass from his bloodied feet. Here, his emotional pain is apparent, almost as tangible as his physical pain.

"Die Hard" is more than a simple shoot-'em-up action movie. The film is simultaneously a romantic film, at least in the moments sprinkled throughout when McClane's yearning for his family and his love for his wife are made evident. The romantic portions of the plot, though, are usurped by the buddy plot, in which professional camaraderie develops into friendship between McClane and Powell, two men who do not meet in person until the film's end but who forge a bond through the film's running dialogue and their shared confessions of past mistakes and future dreams.

In several examples, "Die Hard" demonstrates that the little guy can in fact defeat the big guy. McClane, of course, represents the simple little guy who wins against a group of elite terrorists when the police and even the FBI and its fancy guns and equipment cannot. Similarly, the movie exalts low-tech solutions over high-tech problems. For example, a simple drill ultimately bypasses the computer password and breaks into the vault. In another example, McClane defeats the enemy Hans when he unclasps the latter's expensive watch.

In the end, perhaps "Die Hard" is actually a Christmas story at heart. True, the body count tallies much higher than the typical feel-good holiday affair, and "yippee-ki-yay" rings out instead of "ho-ho-ho," but themes common to the Christmas genre emerge: an ordinary man accomplishes a miracle, Christmas is saved, hope and faith in love are restored, and good conquers all. Christmas tale or action-packed thriller, regardless of the label, "Die Hard" remains at the top of critics' and viewers' lists of best movies more than a quarter-century after its initial release.

Rating: 4 out of 5