Wednesday, June 1, 2011

[Redacted]'s Essential Movies, Part II - Die Hard

Yesterday I addressed the philosophically serious content of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, but my love of films goes way beyond the philosophical.  And with good reason.  The primary reason most people watch movies is to be entertained.  And for me, there are few things more entertaining than a good action flick.  Action comedies, action thrillers, sci-fi action, action horror, and on and on.  But there's simply no denying that Die Hard has to be the best action film ever made.

Sure, other films have had more action - more explosions, more gunfights, etc.  Other action movies have probably had better acting (Roger Ebert was not entirely wrong when he criticized the character of the idiotic deputy police chief portrayed by Paul Gleason for wrecking the second half of the film).  Unlike, say, the action films of Tony and Ridley Scott, there isn't much in the way of subtle acting involved in Die Hard - although, by the same token, Die Hard certainly doesn't take acting to the absurd lows of certain Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer films I could mention.*  Alan Rickman's performance as evil mastermind Hans Gruber certainly didn't win him an Oscar, but say the words "Hans Gruber" to someone and it's almost guaranteed that they'll say, "I love Die Hard, too!"

Bruce Willis, on the other hand, I think turns in a pretty good performance as Detective John McClane.  McClane is portrayed as a good cop who loves his job even if he does like to bend or break the rules (Marco: "You won't hurt me.  You're a policeman.  There are rules for policemen."  McClane: "Yeah?  That's what my captain keeps telling me."  *punch*).  If anything, McClane loves his job too much, since it is obviously the reason his wife Holly has left him and moved to Los Angeles.  In that respect, he's the typical American film hero.  So in love with what he does for a living that he heroically sacrifices his family life for the good of society.  It's a cliche, but it works.

Apart from the genuinely exciting action sequences, however, is the well-written script, featuring one-liners that have passed into the common vernacular.  Some of the more quotable lines:

-"Yippee ki yay, motherfucker."
-"Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!"
-"Now I have a machine gun.  Ho.  Ho.  Ho."
-"Welcome to the party, pal!"

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the now-cliched phenomenon of the "action movie one-liner" can pretty much attribute its parentage to Die Hard and the Lethal Weapon series. The result, since then, has been comedy gold like this:

But of course, all this talk about writing and acting is still really missing the point. Like I said before, the point of movies is to be entertained, and the point of an action movie is to create excitement and tension in an entertaining way. Die Hard knocks the ball out of the park in that respect. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen it. I practically know when every gun is fired and every explosion goes off, but it doesn't matter, because it's just a good action movie. Just like Monty Python and the Holy Grail (I'll have to do an installment on that film at some point) never really loses its humor.

If The Seventh Seal is the superego of film, Die Hard is the glorious, over-the-top id.

*Looking at you, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor.

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