Die Hard (1988) Review

Picture this. An everyday guy, trapped in a skyscraper with foreign terrorists, thirty plus hostages (one being his wife), and inept law enforcement making a mess of the place.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s Die Hard!

Even those who haven’t seen the 1988 action classic know the plot, because it’s been replicated time and time again by countless films that only manage to exist in its shadow. Films like Under Siege and White House Down mimic the style and setup of Die Hard but they both that the substance and emotion it brings to the table.

Really, Die Hard is an anomalous movie for me. Outward appearances would chalk it up to be a standard action picture of the 80’s, and not the pinnacle flick of the decade. There’re movies like Aliens, The Terminator and The Empire Strikes Back, yet Die Hard frequently ranks as number one. There’s a reason for that, and I think it starts with the characters.

One thing I’ve always loved about this movie was the villains, mostly because each is unique and memorable despite having minimal screen time and restricted dialogue. There’s the goofy tech guy drilling the vault, the Asian guy who awkwardly grabs the chocolate bar, and the two blonde European brothers with a bloodlust. Where the filmmakers could’ve easily just written in generic bad guys, they instead gave us something a little more.

And who could forget Alan Rickman’s role as Hans Gruber, the charmingly devious mastermind behind the heist. Clad in an expensive suit and tie, Gruber’s a tad cleverer than your average bear. His methodology comes across as sophisticated and complex, and when I first saw Die Hard, I thought his motives would be intricate. Yet, his master plan is quite the contrary, as he’s nothing more than a common thief looking for a big payout. What a villain.

And with that we’re left with John McClane. The badass. The hero. The everyman. There’s no better guy for the job than 1980’s Bruce Willis. With every memorable punch, gun shot, and one liner he makes, I just want to throw my fist in the air and shout machismo nonsense. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, Willis is an emblem of the masculine hero archetype. But more importantly, he represents a flawed but morally just man willing to sidestep corrupt authority figures in the name of justice. Isn’t that something we all could get behind?

I’ve spent so much time writing about the many personalities that inhabit Die Hard that I didn’t even mention the wonderful writing and direction. The film takes all the right twists and turns, with several reveals that continue to up the ante over time.

One unique thing I’ve always noticed about Die Hard is John McClane’s deteriorating condition as the film progresses. He goes from perfect shape to beaten, battered, and bloodied. That’s something you don’t see even modern action flicks doing too often, and it’s interesting seeing the change in McClane over the span of the movie. Again, it calls back to how much work was put into making Bruce Willis’s character a relatable, tangible human.

You know, there’s an age-old debate about whether this is technically a Christmas movie, since it takes place on Christmas but doesn’t have that much to do with the holiday. While I remain on the “Pro-Christmas” side of things, I think the argument itself speaks to the degree at which people hold Die Hard. It’s pretty much universally held as an action masterpiece, and there aren’t many who criticize its status.

Die Hard is a yearly watch for me, and I recommend it become one for you too.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Death Wish Review

Director Eli Roth takes the reins of a rather untimely (and oddly surprising) Death Wish remake.

The movie stars Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey, an ER surgeon whose wife is killed in a burglary, with his daughter put into a coma. Filled with anger and turmoil, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands, bringing vigilante justice into the community.

I quite enjoyed the character of Paul Kersey, who goes from a reasonable, passive man to full on vigilante. Through experiencing tragedy and observing the injustices around him, it’s interesting seeing Kersey transition into this state of violence.

When came to Willis’ performance however, I found him to be both passionless and stilted, just like his past twenty or so films. It’s sad to think that the man who starred in Die Hard, one of the best action movies ever, has completely given up on acting. And yet, here we are, the remake of Death Wish. Willis puts zero effort into the role, therefore making it hard to derive any sort of connection with the character. His straight-laced, relatively boring character doesn’t even work on a machismo action hero level, making him terrible for the part on all fronts.

The antagonists are the usual 80’s villain archetypes, nothing more than forgettable thugs. They don’t even have the guy, the one distinct main villain that everyone remembers, kind of like Hans Gruber in Die Hard. I can’t remember a single detail about any of these random goons, other than that they get picked off by Bruce Willis (whose also an archetype) one by one.

I’ve seen many critics pan Death Wish for its portrayal of gun violence and gun ownership in a jokey, humorous tone. Critics have also boldly labeled it as fascist and offensive. And while Death Wish was undoubtedly released at a sensitive and crucial point for gun legislation in the U.S., to pan this film based solely off this aspect is too childish and asinine for my taste. I also think that labeling the film as fascist is too easy, and shows a severe lack in the understanding of what that political philosophy entails.

Roth’s seemingly “gun-rights propaganda” flick can’t be taken at face value, as many of his films have a sardonic underpinning anyways. I actually found this to be one of the more fascinating parts of Death Wish. The fact that Willis’ character makes this transformation from peaceful individual into a killing machine was again very intriguing.

This doesn’t excuse the filmmaking, which was poorly paced and had a certain amount of predictability to it. Even the surprisingly few fight sequences that Death Wish had to offer were shot incoherently, which is surely a drawback for action fans.

Setting aside the complexities of our main protagonist, all the actors seem like they’re playing generic stereotypes we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and I’m afraid we’ll see hundreds of times again. And I think that’s the best word to use in the case of Death Wish, generic. Death Wish was far from a dreadful film and felt more along the lines of a generic, 80’s action movie tribute, and I think it should be viewed as such.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint