There are those that think Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas movie, and there are those who do not see it in this manner. I am in the latter of those verbally armed, and passionate camps. Okay, I am not that passionate, although the episode where I debated this matter on the podcast I co-host might suggest otherwise. It is called Down & Out Reviews, by the way, and checking it out would be appreciated. It is on Spotify. To briefly summarize, simply setting a film during Christmas does not automatically make it a Christmas movie. The spirit of the times is what counts. When Die Hard’s main character, John McClane (Bruce Willis), is mowing down villain Hans Gruber’s (Alan Rickman) henchmen, does McClane do so because he is in the giving mood? Does that make the bullets gifts? The simple answer to this absurdity is no. Yet, I get that I am not necessarily the final arbiter on such matters. The arguments about this film will continue. In the meantime, please enjoy this review of this non-Christmas . . . um, classic?
New York Police Detective John McClane is spending Christmas Eve traveling to Los Angeles to see his estranged family as Die Hard begins. His wife, Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) has taken a lucrative corporate job on the West Coast, and brought their children with her. Despite their marital issues, she orders a limousine to pick him up from the airport and bring him to the Nakatomi Plaza where she is attending a company holiday party. At the same time he arrives, the building is attacked by German terrorist Hans Gruber. His goal is to break into the onsite vault of company owner Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi (James Shigeta) and steal $640 million in untraceable bearer bonds. Gruber takes everyone at the party hostage, and when Takagi refuses to give the vault passcode, the executive is murderer. McClane, though, manages to slip away. His first instinct is to try to contact the police and let them handle the situation. Gruber’s men had cut the phone lines to the building, but McClane steals a radio from one of the bad guys. He is then able to find the police frequency, and manages to get in touch with Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), who is nearby on patrol. At first, McClane’s story is not believed. Still, Sergeant Powell does a check on the building. When, with McClane looking on above, this fails to raise the cop’s suspicion, McClane drops the body of one of the terrorists onto the patrol car. Duly convinced, Sergeant Powell radios for back-up, and soon the entire area is surrounded by officers of the law. Unfortunately, the exchange between McClane and Sergeant Powell alerts Gruber to a potential threat to his plan. The task of stopping Gruber seems too big for one, particularly to Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason), who orders a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to attempt an assault. Because McClane has discovered the great deal of explosives that Gruber has planted in the building, the detective knows this would be a mistake. Thus, he takes some of the C-4 and drops it down an elevator shaft as the SWAT team approaches, thus deterring them. Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) steps in to take over the negotiations with Gruber, and seem to agree to Gruber’s demands for a helicopter to take him and his comrades away to freedom. The FBI intends, rather, to send a gunship to eliminate Gruber and company. McClane sees this coming, too, and notices Gruber bringing the hostages with him up to the landing pad on top of the building. Just underneath this structure is where the majority of the explosives have been set. It thus becomes apparent to McClane that Gruber intends to kill the hostages. This is a problem for McClane as Holly is among them. He manages to get the hostages off the pad before the explosion goes off, which also destroys the approaching FBI vehicle. It is now down to McClane and Gruber, and the terrorist has taken Holly as a personal captive. Gruber is also precariously close to the edge of the building, and is wounded by McClane’s hidden weapon. In desperation, Gruber grabs at Holly’s wrist, but the watch he manages to get a hold of slips off and he falls to his death. The day is saved, McClane and Holly appear to have patched things up in the midst of this hoopla, and they get to go home to their family.
The reason why Gruber makes Holly a prisoner at the end of Die Hard is because he discovers that McClane is her husband. Earlier, while trying to find this mysterious person disrupting his plans, Gruber and McClane come face-to-face. The only reason it does not immediately turn violent is because McClane initially mistakes Gruber for a hostage. Holly also does not reveal McClane’s true identity, even though Gruber takes up residence in her office. The final clue comes when he turns over a picture frame near her desk that shows them as a happy family. Yet, this is not the only assist he receives in revealing McClane’s identity. When news of the hostage situation breaks, ambitious local reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) convinces his bosses to let him cover this sensational story. In talking to the police surrounding the building, he hears McClane’s name said. Thornburg then gets McClane’s name and face broadcast on the evening news, which Gruber notices. This gives the terrorists a better idea of the person with which they are contending. The way big stories are covered, I believe, is a topic that The Legionnaire has yet to broach. There is a cliché about the news that goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The idea is that such extraordinary events will get people to pay attention, and bring notoriety to the reporter who is the first to bring these events to light. This is obviously Thornburg’s motivation. It reminds me of Matthew 24:6 where Jesus tells his disciples, “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed. . . .” Our Savior says these things in talking about the end times. He is speaking to the predilection in humanity to, in fact, be alarmed by this kind of news, but broadly He is relating it to the real, Biblical Apocalypse that will surely come one day. Shortly after this, He goes on to say that we do not know when this will actually happen. At the same time, we are drawn to happenings like we see in the movie (or the plethora of Apocalyptic films) because they evince comparisons to the end times. Reporters like Thornburg know well their audience and feed on these fears, not to prepare our souls, but to aggrandize themselves. Think about that the next time you watch the news.
Believe it or not, my recent viewing of Die Hard was my first time watching it. I was, of course, aware of it by reputation. That reputation, much like those reports of far away wars, built the film up in my mind. Having seen it, I really do not understand why there is so much fuss about it. It is not the worst movie, but it is a big, dumb, 1980s action movie. You will notice that, after the first sentence of the second paragraph, I did not write the word “Christmas,” until now of course. That is because it has nothing to do with that season. The Sandlot (1993) shows fireworks on Independence Day. Does that make it a Fourth of July movie? Conversely, Holidate (2020) has all the holidays, and yet is just a Christmas movie? Anyway, if for some strange reason you are in the mood to see lots of violence and swearing, a fair amount of overacting, and a little bit of drug use and nudity (and I hope that does not describe you), then I guess Die Hard is for you.