DIE HARD (1988)
It’s been probably 10 years since I’ve seen this one and since it’s constantly referenced as a great script I wanted to give it a re-watch.
What struct me is the pacing, the humor, and how grounded the action was. Whether the genre takes its cues from DIE HARD (I’m not a genre historian) I don’t know, but what makes action movies great is the constant tug of war between emotion core, clever plot twists, humor (usually delivered through one-liners), and impressive-but-believable action sequences.
DIE HARD pulls them all off so so well. The dialogue is fun and clever but never gives you the oh-shut-the-fuck-up eye rolls. This may be a result of great acting, resisting the need to deliver those lines in close ups, but I found my self nodding along and smirking as the zingers are delivered.
A run time of 2 hours 10 minutes struck me as long initially, but the pacing felt natural and by the end of the movie you felt like you had been through something. John’s scrapes and cuts accumulate, his feet get bloodier, and his tank top turns from white to black.
There are so many small things that make this movie not only work but additionally charming – John starts disadvantaged (shoeless), the main villain and John have mostly battles of wits rather than physical struggles, and the walkie-talkie tech is used not only to drive the plot but to complicate it (everyone can hear what everyone is saying).
The potential cliches in the movie don’t strike as such because they’re so well done. The bureaucratic police department, the over-stepping reporter, the german terrorists – I’ve seen them all before but felt a though I was watching the original incantations of each (maybe I was).
The reason it all worked so well was likely that the logic of the world was well established reality and the plot advancements and twists respected the situation and the viewer. So often in action are you taken out of the moment by a “yeah right that could never happen” moment. There aren’t many of these here so you stay invested in John whether he’s picking glass out of his feet or duck-taping a gun to his back.
Maintaining a mostly-limited perspective on information disclosure strikes me as one of the trickiest elements to executing a script that both makes sense and maintains suspense. For instance the roof being wired to explode is revealed late in the film and only explained as part of the “terrorist’s” plan even later. The fact that the seventh seal is unbreakable from inside is revealed early but only later do we discover the FBI’s standard protocol is to shut off power to the building – thus opening the safe. This selective disclosure allows the audience to play detective with McClane and stay invested in the unfolding drama.
It’s a fun, artful telling of a simple story that respects the audience while knowing its core purpose is to entertain. It works tremendously.