Classic Movie Review: Die Hard (1988)

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Is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie? The debate has raged for far too long, and sorry, but it will not be settled in this writing. How about a less controversial topic: “Die Hard” is a tremendously entertaining and exciting action thriller that still has a tremendous amount of power more than three decades after it was first released.

The basic concept is irresistible. A lone New York cop (the iconic John McClane, played by Bruce Willis) with a gruff demeanor but an iron will goes to Los Angeles to see his estranged wife on Christmas Eve. This involves traveling to a 40-story high rise and trying to make it through a holiday party for her company. The building is crashed by terrorists, leaving the cop to try and take down the invading baddies alone.

The plot and basic structure of the film was taken from a novel by Roderick Thorp (“Nothing Lasts Forever”) but what makes the film iconic are the performances, direction and tone of the resulting thriller. Big name action stars were approached about playing “Die Hard”’s lead, but if Schwarzenegger or Stallone had tried to squeeze into McClane’s shoes (as long as he wears them), it wouldn’t have been the same. Willis, who at that time was mostly known as a comedic actor on television, gave McClane a hard nosed everyman appeal that makes “Die Hard” unique and easy to identify with.

Then there’s the villain, the incomparable Alan Rickman as terrorist leader Hans Gruber. Primarily a theater actor, his performance hit audiences like a lightning bolt, a fresh take on the usual action baddie that became just as memorable as the good guy he fought. The relentless pace set by director McTiernan gives the whole enterprise a white-knuckle feeling from beginning to end, and the music keeps the momentum going.

The end result is terrific entertainment from start to finish, and an action film that has buried itself into the tooth of pop culture. And let’s be real here: Is it really Christmas before Hans Gruber gets dropped off of Nakatomi Plaza?

“Die Hard” is available for streaming on Peacock and Hulu.