A group of international thieves stage a daring robbery of a Japanese corporation in Los Angeles. What they never counted on was a New York City police officer visiting his estranged wife, who works there.
Review and Analysis:
If the beginning of the decade was marked with action movies packed with gobs of steroid-enhanced testosterone by the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone blowing away hordes of faceless and nameless Brown, Black, and Asian men, then the latter part of the decade marked a significant shift from overly muscular men to more of an “Average Joe” action hero with guys like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson taking on the mantle.
What Kind of Movie is This…Really?
This is your standard buddy-cop movie, only dressed in different clothes. The main idea behind the buddy-cop movie is that your two police officers come from opposite sides of the spectrum in some way; in the late 80s to mid-90s, the formula also tended to mix race as part of the spectrum of differences, best personified with the Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour movie franchises.
However, there is a dark side to Action Movies, particularly Buddy-Cop Action Movies. And that is the authoritarian nature of said movies, where these cops often act as judge, jury, and executioner on the spot. Audience opinion is supposed to shift towards the gun-wielding hero cop, and this is done by having other cops, usually those who are superior in rank to the hero-cop, look to take actions other than storming in and engaging in firefights with the bad guys. There are elements of this here in this movie, but you can find stronger cases of this with Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series, Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series, and Sylvester Stallone’s movies in which he plays law enforcement officers, like Cobra, Demolition Man, and Judge Dredd.
The summary execution of bad guys is often overlooked because the victims, outside of the designated damsel-in-distress, are people who are to be derided or discarded once their role has been played to its inevitable conclusion.
A Christmas Action Movie, Too?:
Does any know what Our Hero used to stencil the message on this unfortunate flunky’s sweater? We know it is supposed to be the flunky’s own blood, but what does John use as a writing implement here? Blood coagulates and “dries” quickly, and paintbrushes (even on the off-chance Japanese calligraphers were present) are at a big premium here.
But the lettering is large enough…for fingers!
[Biology Note: Think about all of the blood-borne pathogens the flunky may have had. Now think about all the contact that John had afterwards with everyone, including his wife, when he was bloodied-up himself.]
The Multinational Terrorist Force:
In keeping with traditional Hollywood casting annoyances, the bad guys are nearly always cast to be un-American. Die Hard is no exception to this rule, as the bad guys are all supposed to be German, except for 2 of them:
The first is played Al Leong, who says very little. All we know is that he is a non-descript Asian man who was hired by Gruber to act as part of the muscle of the robbery. Mr. Leong has spent much of his career in Hollywood playing these kinds of roles. And, as par for the course in Hollywood, Mr. Leong fires more bullets and throws more punches than he actually speaks.
The second is Clarence Gilyard’s character, who plays a computer hacker that Hans Gruber hired for the job.
While Hollywood has a very hard time employing Men of Color as heroic characters, especially Black Men when they have computer skills, the only redeeming factor of this movie is that he is the only surviving member of the robbery group, having been punched out by the comic relief chauffeur.
And, of course, what is an action movie without a painted-face?
Hans Gruber is played by Alan Rickman, who is as far away from German ancestry as allowed by law. Like Firefox, Iron Eagle, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and any number of Hollywood productions, the main speaking parts are rarely (if ever) played by those who share ancestry with their characters. I guess Kai Wulff was considered to be Too German for a German part, perhaps?
Side-Whitefacing at its finest, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The Final Moment of “Truth”:
In many action movies of the genre, secondary characters are given a moment where they are either redeemed in some way, or serve comeuppance against an unnecessary agitator. Because this is a buddy-cop movie, Al Powell’s character gets the biggest moment among the secondary characters. A big part of his character was his unwillingness to use his service weapon after he accidentally shoots a teenage boy who was wielding a toy pistol at night. Since then, he moved to desk duty and had been there until tonight, when he was pressed into patrol duty for the Christmas holidays.
So the moment where Powell has to act to save the lives of many people, including John and Holly, is obscured for a moment. That is, until after the service weapon was emptied into McClane’s German rival.
Also, take note that the music from this scene was not part of Michael Kamen’s score. In fact, Kamen never penned a single note of this song. This song was actually taken from James Horner’s Aliens score, and was supposed to be the song that was played when Ripley sent the Alien Queen into deep space as she closed the airlock. But the song was deemed too “anti-climatic,” so a reprise of the final motif of “Bishop’s Countdown” was used for that moment.
What this Movie Hates:
This movie has an unhealthy hatred for the media, even more so than it does for Hans Gruber and his thieves. Richard Thornburg, pictured above, is supposed to be the personification of what this movie loathes about the news media; self-serving glad-hounds who would sacrifice their friends and family to get a “story” to the public – and take the glory and the credit for it. However, when you watch the news media snippets peppered throughout the movie, one gets a sense of the varying degrees of cluelessness of media reporters and pundits. In particular, a news show that brings on the author is this book:
The author of the book starts outlining what he believes is going to happen as the “hostage crisis” unfolds. However, we are seeing that none of the outcomes the author proposed will ever come to pass, so we are supposed to dismiss the guest as nothing more than an impediment to “real action” taking place.
Additionally, Mr. Thornburg’s actions at the end of the movie are supposed to make the audience sneer in derision. He threatens Ms. Gennero’s housekeeper with a threat of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (back then innocuously called the INS) visiting her, just so he can get Holly’s kids on TV as part of his relentless quest to grab ratings for the station and glory for himself. However, since rise of tabloid journalism and celebrity reporting, Thornburg’s actions are supposed to be seen as the new normal; “It if Bleeds, It Leads,” taken to its logical extreme in this movie.
Buddy Cop Action Movies also hate:
Negotiators. Actually, action movies hate negotiations in general. Therefore, all of the bad guys you see are ones that are not only willing to kill for their cause, but they are also willing to die for them. Sometimes in by giant fireball explosions.
Then there are:
The hippies. In an action movie, the Hippie can take many forms. In this case, this Hippie became a metaphor for the 80s yuppie (Young Urban Professional). You can tell that he is only out for himself, because he, like the Negotiator, prefers to talk his way calmly and bargain his way out instead of spouting idiotic one-liners.
Action Movies hate Federal Agencies. You see it in a single moment when the Agents Johnson (yes, they are both named Agent Johnson) talk about the possible losses of civilians in their “daring helicopter rescue.” Their interference, like that of the SWAT team minutes earlier, is supposed to be seen as unnecessary impediments; a bump in the road to the greatness of a New York City cop who is better trained for skyscraper warfare than international mercenaries equipped with paramilitary-grade weapons.
The Idiot (Which One?):
Hans Grueber was supposed to be considered a leader of a ruthless terrorist organization, although not necessarily determined to rule the world. Like most evil bad guys in Action Films, Hans is not a WASP. Hans is simply German. He likes to kill people with impunity, except when it would actually suit his purposes (like getting “Roy” to stop his clandestine activities).
This scene is all about the “Who’s the Moron, Now?” that these two banter on about. Hans runs into John and immediately tries to pass himself off as a hostage. John gives him his service weapon and Hans, believing he had John where he wanted him, threatens to kill him. However, John’s handgun was “empty.” However, instead of killing Hans on the spot (considering that John’s machine gun was not empty), John decides to banter with Hans over a LOL!Fail moment. Seconds later, Hans calls him “Stupid” when his reinforcements arrive on the elevator (that announces its arrival by beeping). Hans is lucky that these elevators are not only fast, but fast-opening in this sequence.
Action Heroes: Always finding ways to make the movie longer since 1915.
Bruised and Beaten to a Pulp:
What ultimately propels Die Hard to front of the action movie genre was its willingness to have the hero injured throughout the movie. In fact, there are times when John McClane is beaten into near submission by his arch-nemesis Karl. John never wins a fistfight against Karl, nor any gun battle the two of them have.
By the end of the movie, John goes from looking like this:
To looking like this:
As such, the “Pet the Dog” moment in Die Hard happens all throughout the film. You aren’t supposed to question how idiotic the bad guys are here because the hero is injured in some way in every single battle of the movie. Because he is not a “Perfect Killing Machine” with super-special skills, his injuries are seen not only as a reminder of his working-class roots, but also of his “Heroic Tenacity.” McClane is supposed to be, above all, a Working-Class, Blue-Collar Action Hero.
The Obligatory Husband-Wife Character Conflict:
Die Hard‘s opening shot, which was supposed to be the underlying conflict, was the heated discussion John and Holly have before the German Bond Robbers appear. It starts out over the fact that Holly uses her birth name (someone tell me why it is considered a “Maiden Name”?) of Gennaro. Holly tries to explain the “cultural nuances” of working in a Japanese corporation, but John isn’t trying to hear any of it. It escalates quickly into why Holly would take a job (and the kids) 3000 miles away in Los Angeles (because it was a Great Opportunity), leaving her husband behind in New York.
It is always interesting that women who are given opportunities to advance in the job market, especially within a family setting, are considered valid sources of character conflict. It can be also be described as such: Ambitious Woman with dreams of conquering a Dominion Once Considered Male-Only, Who is Married to a Simple Man who is Content with His “Boring” Job. And the jobs in which the men are given within the film are considered to be much lower status AND lower-paying; Holly, as Director of Corporate Affairs at Nakatomi, is able to afford a Los Angeles, CA, house AND a full-time housekeeper (I do wonder how much Mrs. Gennaro-McClane actually pays her). Meanwhile, John McClane, as an NYPD beat cop (well, Sergeant) would make considerably less, especially since he isn’t being portrayed as being a corrupt officer.
When presented with this dynamic, rarely does the “Man” willingly pack his bags to go with his wife when she is presented with her “big opportunity”; The movie has him stay behind and have him continue working at his lower-class job, which now becomes the only place where he finds solace. Flip it around, however, and you won’t find many (if any) movies where the “Husband” gets his Big Break and the “Wife” doesn’t support him and pack the bags. The only exceptions to this would be where the couple is already in some kind of conflict – and this opportunity only adds to the turmoil.
Independence Day borrows this specific conflict for David Levinson and Constance Spano, with the same dynamic. And, as it turns out, their “experience” in their menial job gives them the edge needed to deal with bad guys.
However, a final note. In the case of the McClanes, the whole thing turns out to be moot. In Die Hard 2: Die Harder, John takes a job as a Los Angeles Police Officer (well, Lieutenant) and it is apparent that Holly and John have completely reconciled.
A Note on the Cinematography:
Movies like Die Hard also show their age by the technology of the film stock and filming technique. In many cases you see the effect of technology in the end product – in this instance, the Lens Flare that features prominently during the helicopter flyover sequences. Unintentionally, Lens Flares during this era are supposed to be the eyes’ natural reaction to having bright light impact against your eyesight without artificial filtering. At this level, Lens Flaring is not as jarring as it is in, say, Star Trek (2009).
A Special Request:
Find me a Woman of Color in this movie.
Because the only one I can find in this movie is this one:
She is somewhere in this frame. She’s gone 30 frames later.
Die Hard follows all of the standard action movie cliches as it starts its own. Gone is the Schwarzenegger bodybuilder and the cold-blooded Super-Cop Eastwood, but even with “Blue-Collar” Willis and his marital strife (which was the real conflict of the movie), all of the usual one-liners and sniping at Superior Officers were still present. James Shigeta gets to play a Japanese executive, only to be gunned down by
the British Masquerader Hans Gruber. The other Asian men are disappeared, except in collage shots.
Most of the women in the film are reduced to screaming when guns are fired. Although you do see some women in police uniforms, ALL of the women in the film act as impediments to the action within the Tower. The News Media is seen as another obstruction, as their engagement in tabloid journalism almost gets the McClanes killed (except for the part where John takes it upon himself to kill all of the
terrorists robbers, sans 2). There are no women of color with any significant part in this film. Meanwhile, in a twist, all of the Black men in the film survive. Sadly, any Asian male who opens his mouth dies.
Die Hard should be seen for what it is – Buddy Cop Movie with Authoritarian Tendencies. Start asking questions about this movie and expect Holly Gennaro McClane to punch you in the jaw.