Visiting his estranged wife Holly (Bedelia) in Los Angeles, New York cop John McClane (Willis) arrives at her work’s Christmas party on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Plaza building. The party is soon interrupted, however, when a group of terrorists led by the intelligent Hans Gruber (Rickman) take Holly and her fellow employees hostage, while they attempt a huge robbery. Having avoided capture, it’s up to McClane to save the day…
Die Hard is often hailed as the greatest action movie ever made, and it’s not hard to see why. Redefining the genre, John McTiernan’s high-rise classic is more than just a dumb explosion-fest (although, admittedly, there are plenty of explosions), as he uses the claustrophobic, one-location setup to stage a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse. After a handful of effective character scenes, we’re thrust into one memorable sequence after another (a vertigo-inducing fall down an airshaft, a toe-curling crawl across broken glass), while the dialogue is endlessly quotable (insert your own favourite here).
Undoubtedly, it’s dated in some respects (De’voreaux White’s jive-talkin’ limo driver, the naff office-chic fashions), but as a pure actioner Die Hard remains timeless. McTiernan, of course, is arguably the king of action directors (he also gave us the original Predator), so together with cinematographer Jan De Bont (who’d go on to helm Speed) and scorer Michael Kamen, the benchmark is set pretty high here. All this, and we’ve not even come to Bruce Willis in the role for which he’ll always be remembered, as the vest-clad, barefooted fly-in-the-ointment John McClane.
In stark contrast to the unflappable super-cops who were the order of the day back then, Willis’ McClane is a vulnerable, relatable everyman who’s making things up as he goes along (see also: Indiana Jones). It’s an actual film, sure, but the scene where he half breaks down in a bathroom may be the film’s best. Well that, and any featuring Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, who started a trend for meticulous, well-dressed villains. Elsewhere, Bonnie Bedelia and Reginald VelJohnson are solid are John’s wife and cop-on-the-outside contact respectively, while the likes of William Atherton, Hart Bochner and Paul Gleason provide the cream of ‘80s assholes.
Die Hard is often hailed as the greatest action movie ever made, and it’s not hard to see why.