Nothing says Christmas more than Bruce Willis in a wifebeater surrounded by explosions, shooting a bunch of European criminals. Die Hard is one of my favourite Christmas movies, for the simple reason that it’s a massively enjoyable movie that is coincidentally set somewhere around Christmas. Once you get past being bludgeoned over the head by the 80s anachronisms (in the first five minutes we see a series of terrifying hairstyles and fashion choices, Bruce Willis carrying his gun on the plane, people smoking in the airport, outrageous workplace sexual harassment and Bonnie Bedelia), you can settle into the exposition, which lets us know that we are in “California!” because people are apparently different there, that the Nakatomi Plaza is a state of the art building controlled by computers (which are probably not to be trusted), Bruce’s wife is [gasp] using her maiden name in the workplace and that they may or may not celebrate Christmas in Japan.
No! The landlines have been cut! Suddenly we are all made instantly aware that this is a pre-mobile phone movie and take a few minutes to think about how much more difficult it is for a screenwriter to isolate people in a film these days… Until you realise they can just write that the protagonist has a flat mobile battery and by the time you’ve realised that a bunch of pale European stereotypes walk in and start shooting up the place. Bruce is able to escape detection thanks to the criminal types being distracted by a sexual harassment lawsuit in the making and hoofs it to another floor to work out what to do next. After witnessing one of the villains pushing a container with “guided missile” conveniently written on the side, we know that these chaps are up to no good.
According to a thickly accented Alan Rickman “Due to the Nakatomi Corporation’s legacy of greed around the globe, they’re about to be taught a lesson in the real use of power…you will be witnesses”, but it soon becomes readily apparent that just like any self-respecting villain in an 80s action movie he’s just in it for those sweet, sweet bearer bonds. We are then shown a few gratuitous Christmas trees before Bruce kills his first bad guy. After stealing his machine gun, Bruce despatches a really obvious dummy, I mean the dead guy, in a Santa hat with “Now I have a machine gun Ho – Ho – Ho” written on his shirt, down in the lift to open on the floor where the hostages are being held. This leads to the clear highlight of the film which is Alan Rickman’s reading of “Ho – Ho – Ho”. Genius.
One thing that always impresses in Die Hard is the incompetent assholery that is passed from one law enforcement official to another and once passed on, the until recently asshole is now thoughtful and intelligent. It starts with Bruce putting through the emergency call to report an armed assault and hostage situation, which is rejected and mocked until a series of gunshots are heard and even then they only suggest to send someone to check it out “if” there’s a car in the area. The tubby incompetent cop buying a bunch of donuts, played by that one guy from that Urkel show is so incompetent he ignores machine gun fire and only pays attention when a dead criminal is dropped on his car. The tubby cop is then suddenly skilled and brilliant and the Deputy Police Chief who takes over is the new asshole that won’t listen to reason, but then he didn’t listen to The Breakfast Club either, so he’s probably not one to be trusted. Then the FBI guys show up with their comically identical names and Vietnam flashbacks and proudly take over the asshole mantle while the Deputy Police Chief is now the voice of reason.
Anyway, while all of this West Coast law enforcement assholery is going on, the plucky east coast cop is knocking off the criminals one by one, cracking wise and having deep and meaningful conversations with the donut loving Urkel neighbouring cop mentioned earlier. Then we are reminded that it’s an 80s movie as William Atherton shows up in a cameo as the biggest asshole in the film, even more assholey than the beardo that says “Hey, sprechen ze talk?”. Needless to say, the old adage of “if you see a guided missile in the first act, it will be used in the third” rings true, as the film treats us to a significant number of explosions, kneecaps being shot out and running barefoot over broken glass, as you should expect from any Christmas movie. The untrustworthiness of computers is given a brief respite as we are shown that they can be helpful if you strap explosives to them and throw them down an elevator shaft… Apart from that they’re probably not that great though.
Soon we are shown that by using the power of the Christmas themed sticky tape he sees, Bruce is able to strap a pistol to his back and save the day (see it’s Christmas!). Whilst noting that the symbolic act of Mrs Bruce letting go of the symbolically symbolic Rolex which Rickman is clinging on to in order to save her life is a little heavy on the symbolism, Rickman is pretty great in that scene. The ending is most enjoyable, although I don’t mean the bit where donut cop overcomes his fear of shooting people or whatever… I absolutely love the swirl of romantic music as Bruce meets the Urkel guy, followed by William Atherton getting punched (yay!) and “Let It Snow” playing as the debris falls from the Nakatomi Plaza. Die Hard is an excellent Christmas movie and a lot of fun, in a one man killing spree kind of way… I give it eight out of nine reindeer.
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