Die Hard ★★★★½

I've always felt that Die Hard is a movie that's held back slightly by a couple of noteworthy flaws, but it's a testament to the skill of the people involved that it still manages to overcome its problems, and end up as a thrilling icon of modern Action movies in the end. To get my complaints out of the way first, one thing I've never liked about it is its sometimes broad writing, and often rather stock, generic characters.

I could forgive the film for having one, maybe two of them, but when you've got the inexplicably stupid, stubborn chief of police we've seen in every cop movie since Dirty Harry, the muscling-in Feds who literally say to the local police chief "not anymore you're not [in charge]", the goofy teenage sidekick, and other examples all in the same film, it gets to be a bit much, don't you think? I also agree somewhat with Ebert when he complained about how the pacing here is sometimes interrupted by unnecessary tangents, the chief offender being Carl Winslow's "tragic" backstory about why he isn't a beat cop anymore, complete with obligatory sad acoustic guitar on the soundtrack, a moment that totally MURDERS the pacing, and adds nothing to the story.

However, it says a lot for Die Hard that it still managed to become such an influential action classic, despite all of these flaws. What it gets right is its overall sense of character and personality, as John McClane genuinely feels like a reluctant, wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time everyman, similar to how you'd imagine a real street cop would react in the same situation. And of course, he's matched by the late, great Alan Rickman in his first(!) and possibly best onscreen role, as the iconic Han Gruber, a sophisticated, urbane, and utterly ruthless German mercenary. The film wrings great mileage out of their dualing performances, Willis as the sclub-y, sarcastic New York cop trying to triumph over a well-armed European invader, and Rickman as an educated elite struggling to wipe out a class-less American Neanderthal who's apparently convinced that he's "Rambo", as Gruber puts it.

Besides that strong central dynamic, Hard genuinely succeeds in being a thinking man's action movie, with its storytelling placing a greater emphasis on building tension and suspense than you'd normally expect from a movie of this genre; Nakatomi Plaza serves well as a claustrophobic, high-tech Alamo under siege, and at times, it feels less like an action movie, and more like a giant game of chess, with a forty-floor skyscraper serving as the board.

Pretty much every character here is constantly strategizing and maneuvering in order to achieve their individual goals, and McClane and Gruber themselves often duel over the radio with plenty of insults and psychological warfare, alongside the ACTUAL warfare that they're waging. And, speaking of the action, Die Hard has plenty of it; firefights, neck-snappings, destroying armored SWAT vehicles with rockets, bare-knuckled fistfights to the death, shooting through a window while hanging off a building while at the same time the roof blows up and a helicopter explodes and crashes hundreds of feet to the ground... it would seem ludicrous if it wasn't as well-made as it is. Flaws aside, Die Hard still more than provides the "forty stories of adventure" promised on its poster, and then some.

Final Score: 8.5

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