RECAP: Die Hard

Die Hard (1988): John McTiernan

In late 1987 Bruce Willis won an Emmy for his role in the ABC series Moonlighting. Little did he know, little did anyone know, that in less than a year he would become the third in a triumvirate of modern action star gods.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A New York City cop travels to a Christmas party in Los Angeles, foils a robbery, has a few laughs.

Hero (10/10)

John McClane (Bruce Willis) opens Die Hard on a plane. A regular New York City cop, John is a tough nut, though he hates flying. That’s when we meet him–sitting in an airplane sweating nervously. Some suit (and weren’t they all suits in the ‘80s?) leans toward him and suggests he make fists with his toes on the thin carpet to ease his tension. Whaddya know? It works!

John has journeyed to Los Angeles, California to attend the Christmas party of Nakatomi Corporation. How did a NYC cop get invited to a corporate big wig party? His estranged wife Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) invited him. At the airport a limo driver named Argyle (De’voreaux White) picks him up.

John McClane

John is not a limo guy. He sits in the front seat with Argyle, and the two talk the lives of blue collar guys. Pretty soon John finds himself on the 30th floor of the unfinished Nakatomi building, the American home of the Nakatomi Corporation, a Japanese company conglomerate and currently holding its corporate Christmas party, to which John is invited. Welcome to the party, pal.

John meets the company’s president, a genial man named Joe Takagi (James Shigeta), and he connects with his estranged wife Holly, who’s chosen to go by her maiden name, Gennaro. The look on her face when she spots him, well, leaves much to be desired. The two argue about her use of her maiden name. Let’s say that their marriage is on the rocks, but trending upward.

Hearts will rend throughout Die Hard, feet will be shredded, people will be covered in glass. John is in a bathroom washing up when Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), international criminal and disgraced member of the West German Volksfrei, busts up the party with guns and harsh words, turning Christmas into a nightmare.

Holly Gennaro, is it Holly McClane?

John, as quick-witted as ever a cop has been, is smart enough to make himself scarce from the moment he senses trouble. He’ll stay on the fringes for most of Die Hard, bothering Hans from afar. John goes from barely armed, barefoot cop to machine gun-armed punching machine to detonator stealing foil to national hero in the night ahead, and he does it with the most class and swagger of any man not named John Wayne. Or Roy Rogers. Or Gary Cooper, asshole.

With a penchant for talking to himself, (“Why the fuck didn’t you stop him, John?”) John shows his smarts every moment on the screen. He hears the initial gunfire and thinks to look for an exit. He checks the floors, memorizing them, and he sounds a fire alarm, though it’s called off as the fire trucks drive to the tower. He scouts the bad guys and picks them off one by one, sometimes two by two. And have you seen him work in an elevator shaft? It’s like he invented the things.

John is instantly endeared with the viewers because he’s a cop, but not a supercop lacking emotion and fear. Hey, he’s just like us! We love him even more when he arrives at baggage claim and picks up an enormous stuffed bear and carries it through the terminal. John McClane=sweet-hearted, red-blooded Everyman.


Skills with a fists and a gun come easily to police officers. But what makes John McClane the legendary action hero that he is? All the credit to Willis. With a script stuffed with one-liners, Willis has plenty of fun with the role.

After Hans learns John’s real identity, here’s how John responds: “Sister Teresa called me Mr. MClane in the third grade, my friends call me John, and you’re neither, shithead.”

Then, after a tense scene in which Hans murders a hostage because John won’t give back some important detonators, John, overwhelmed from the murder, is tired and angry. He says, “Go fuck yourself, Hans.”

John runs through a corridor a couple of times, past a poster of topless women. Despite being chased by murderous goons, he takes time to say hello to the babes on the poster.

John spouts great lines in nearly every scene, and does so with swagger while limping, covered in blood, and barefoot. There’s a reason Die Hard spawned four sequels, and John McClane is one of them.

Villain (10/10)

Boy, does Die Hard’s villain shine. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is the best action movie villain ever.

As John McClane makes his wayward journey in a limousine from LAX to a Christmas party high inside the Nakatomi tower, West German master criminal Hans Gruber deploys his team of thieves to the same building. They are efficiently securing the unfinished tower on Christmas Eve, when few people will be inside. Already we know that this is a good plan, and no one has even told us as much.

Hans’s team locks down the building in minutes, killing the two guards left on duty without raising a single alarm. The team locks the elevators and disables the phones, tactics that won’t raise much alarm because the building remains unfinished. Problems can be chalked up as bugs to be worked out.

Everything in place, Hans makes his entrance to the party. What a moment. With plenty of gunfire the bad guys gather the partygoers into the lobby with the classy water feature. Hans raises his hands for calm. He holds a small notebook. The Nakatomi Corporation’s long use of greed is about to be taught a lesson in the real use of power. “You will be witnesses,” he says.

Hans wants to find Takagi, and he recites the man’s life history as if he’s reading his resume, all while walking amongst the hostages, reading their faces, until Takagi calls an end to the game. The two adversaries ride the elevator to a higher floor, where Hans muses about the “benefits of a classical education” and murders Takagi for not giving up access codes to a vault on the 34th floor.

Now we learn why Hans has raided Nakatomi on Christmas Eve. Inside the vault are bearer bonds worth about $640 million. Whoever holds these bonds owns them. After tonight, Hans believes, he’ll be “sitting on a beach, earning 20%.” As he tells Holly later, “I am an exceptional thief.”

Hans Gruber and John McClane engage in a cat-and-mouse game throughout Die Hard, which you expect to be resolved in a climactic showdown, and it is, but you don’t expect the several scenes in the second act in which they chat. First they get on the radio with each other, when Hans tries to suss out John’s character. He believes him to be “another orphan of a bankrupt culture” who watched too many movies growing up. John’s response: “Yippie-ki-yay mother fucker.”

About to murder Takagi

The moments they spend together below the tower’s roof are pure gold. Hans pretends to be an employee named Bill Clay. He plays scared, and John tells him, “You want to stay alive you stay with me.” John offers him a cigarette. Hans’s fake accent goes in and out. He not only names himself as an actual Nakatomi employee, but one on the 29th floor, who might be invited to the party and would wear a John Phillips suit.

Hans is a great villain for several reasons. First, Alan Rickman’s acting. I love the way he spouts out “Ho. Ho. Ho,” when reading the blood-stained sweatshirt, as if each word tastes dirty. He’s as manicured and bespoke as a man can get, and he’ll look at you as if through you.

Few villains have ever appeared as calm and certain as Hans. His underlings almost never question his plan, and it’s a nearly flawless plan. In each scene Hans might end it by killing you, or offering you a couch to recline on. He’s terrifying and charming in equal parts.

Action/Effects (10/10)

Die Hard‘s most explosive scene occurs when the SWAT team decides to barrel its way into the locked-down tower. Big balls swinging at Nakatomi.

LAPD’s first act is to shine a spotlights onto the building. That’ll teach the terrorists. John and his friend on the ground, Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) chat for a bit, and Al asks John to chill. “If you are what I think you are,” he says, “then you’ll know…when to pray.”

Four black-clad SWAT members run to the front door. The rest of the squad surrounds the building, and Die Hard throws in a subtle joke. One policeman runs through a rose garden. “Ouch,” he says, pricked by a thorn. These ain’t your daddy’s SWAT.

SWAT’s jacked to enter, and Hans just as much. He expected this. The tech guy trying to breach the vault, Theo (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) flips on a bank of monitors to be the eyes. He notes the “assholes” coming to the rear in standard formation. Two of Hans’s men are ready on the ground floor.


Meanwhile, a window bursts from gun fire. “It’s panic fire,” the SWAT leader says. Al knows what’s up. “They’re shooting at the lights,” he says, mostly to himself. Whaddya know, the bad guys shoot out the lights. Al’s boss is like, Hey they’re shooting the lights. Funny.

Hans advises his men not to be impatient. “Just wound them,” he says, enunciating each word as if they are all equally important. One henchman has eaten at least two candy bars while waiting for the shooting to start. He and one other shoot the four men at the door. Al’s boss finally recognizes that the SWAT members are in danger, but their leader won’t pull them back. Instead he orders in The Car.

This truck is about to get got.

Hans’s men bring out their master weapon: a bolt-driven, multi-piece rocket launcher with reticle scope aimed at the LAPD armored car as the latter stalls on the stairs to the tower. Terrific editing and music anticipate the moment. All the characters are drawn to the vehicle and its long, unhindered approach to the building.

The two bad guys yelling at each other in German drag a wheeled cart carrying the rocket launcher’s parts from one end of the building to the other. John, high in the tower, looks on helplessly. A terrorist nearly kills an inquisitive hostage.

Quick cuts heighten the tension, and before you know it a rocket is streaking toward the armored car. The rocket detonates on the vehicle, and a second, larger explosion follows, covering the vehicle in flames. “Oh my God the quarterback is toast,” Theo says. Hans, on the handheld radio, orders another shot. John calls him a mother fucker and decides to stop watching and get in the game. Another rocket kills the car.

Using a chair, a block of C4, a computer monitor, and a bunch of detonators, John throws the weighted chair down an elevator shaft. The resulting explosion is tremendous, dwarfing the rockets’ fire. Cuts show the entire floor igniting, the shaft sending flames up 30 floors, the shaking thunder of the building felt by the hostages, and a series of flashing lights on Hans’s face. A henchman runs in. “They’re using artillery on us,” he says. “You idiot,” Hans says. “It’s him.”

Later, after John meets Hans, he runs barefoot into a computer room. Hans, Karl (Alexander Godunov), and John exchange beaucoup bullets until Hans orders Karl to “Shoot. The glass.” They shatter every pane in that room. John escapes, but his feet take a score of glass shards with them.

Speaking of blood, the blood pack work is fantastic. Plenty of sprays on white or gray walls. John’s arms seem to leak rivers of blood, and his shirt, famously, turns from white to near black throughout the night.

A few explosions pack plenty of wallop. John ties plastic explosives to a chair that detonate on the ground floor, possibly jeopardizing the building’s integrity. A lot of people get covered in glass. Later, more C4 explodes the top of the building, downing a helicopter in its wake.

The smallest but most emotionally powerful explosion occurs when the bad guys destroy the LAPD’s armored personnel carrier. Hans and his crew are heavily armed, and most of their guns are used. Even a bolted-to-the-ground rocket launcher gets a turn.

This triumvirate of explosions leaves the viewer breathless, but not desensitized. The filmmakers understood that less can be more.

Die Hard also gives viewers gun fights, fist fights, and word fights. Hans and John spar across the radio as well as Ali and Frazier traded punches. Hans kills hostages, John will not give in (the detonators) and let him kill more.

Sidekicks (6/8)

John McClane has one chief sidekick: Sgt. Al Powell, whose wife is pregnant, and knows more about the ingredients of Twinkies than being in the line of fire. Al arrives on scene when 911 dispatches him to Nakatomi to check on the crazy asshole who’s been claiming a terrorist takeover.
Those Twinkies are for his wife.

He observes the entry plaza and calls it a “wild goose chase.” As he’s driving his car away, John drops a body on his car hood. Merry Christmas, Al, and welcome to the party. Hans’s men fire hundreds of rounds into the car. That’s when Al utters a legendary line. “God dammit Jesus H. Christ!” he yells in one breath. Al backs his car up, under fire, through rose bushes, until it careens off a ledge. They’re turning his car into swiss cheese, dammit!

Al actually does nothing to physically assist John (until the film’s final minute), but he provides much-needed moral support. He literally tells him to hang in there. “I love you, so do a lot of the other guys.”

Al is the cop on the scene with the least pull and the most idea of what’s going on inside Nakatomi. And he won’t let the bosses kick him out. A deputy chief tries, but Al tells him off, saying, “No sir, you couldn’t drag me away.”

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Don’t forget Argyle

Holly Gennaro is mostly inactive. She is a hostage, and we twice see what active hostages do in Hans’s hands: they die. Gennaro uses her wits to stay alive. She also reasons with Hans, and his acquiescence to her about the couch for the pregnant woman humanizes Hans and makes Gennaro a hero in her own right.

Henchmen (8/8)

Die Hard doesn’t use its henchmen often, but minute-for minute they excel. Theo is Hans’s Number Two. He is a big Lakers fan, and his commentary of the heist involves a recitation of most of the 1988 Lakers’ starting lineup. That team was the defending NBA champion, not a bunch of slouches.

Tony (Andreas Wisniewski), the sweatpants-wearing German that John kills early on, dies quickly but leaves a mark. He is Karl’s brother, and sends the surviving member of the Brothers Teutons into a rage.

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Gotta love Karl

Tony, this is worth mentioning again, wears sweatpants to a high-stakes, hostage-taking robbery. If that doesn’t spell confidence, I lost the bee. I think Tony outshines Karl, even though the latter gets more screen time and the final fight with John.

The terrorists aren’t the only people hurting John’s chances. No single character epitomizes a coked-up 1980s dealmaker better than Ellis. After the rocket attack on the LAPD car, Ellis decides to take matters into his own hands. He won’t sit around any longer to see who gets him killed first: the terrorists or John.

“I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast,” he says. “I think I can handle this Euro-trash.” He meets Hans with a shit-eating grin on his face and an offer. Hans decides to hear him, if only intrigued by his audacity.

Ellis spouts some gibberish and buzz words about “camel jockeys” and “Heebs,” and Hans gawps at him. “Business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen.” Ellis is pure sleaze and in his element. Gruber, confused, demands straight talk. “The guy who’s upstairs fucking things up? I can give ‘im to ya.”

Later they get John and Ellis on the horn together, and it’s magic. “Hey, John boy,” Ellis says. John understands immediately what’s at stake. He saw Hans kill Takagi. Ellis pretends they are friends; John knows that means his life is in grave jeopardy.

Ellis, handed a Coke, thinks he’s working the terrorists. He shines like a star. He play-acts to John that they will kill him if John doesn’t give up the detonators. To show how great he is at improvising, he gives a thumbs up to Hans. Hey wasn’t I great with that line?

John pleads for Ellis’s life. Ellis sips his Coke. It proves his final drink. John says no more. Hans murders Ellis and lets John hear the hostages scream. It’s a sad moment, but memorable because Ellis was perfect, PERFECT in this sequence. The grin, the beard, the cocaine–perfect.

Let’s not leave out asshole reporter Richard “Dick” Thornburg (William Atherton). Sitting in a local newsroom, he hears Al’s “swiss cheese” comment and runs to the scene. Full of bologna, Thornburg watches the building explode, thanks to John, and says to his cameraman, “Tell me you got that.” And then, “Eat your heart out Channel Five.” He also threatens Holly’s maid with a call to the INS.

Stunts (5/6)

Die Hard‘s most spectacular stunt in the movie is arguable. John leaping from the roof with a fire hose wrapped around him qualifies as the best. Or maybe you prefer when he shoots a window and kicks through it. Or perhaps you like best the movie’s most outlandish moment, when McClane careens through the elevator shaft to catch hold of a vent with his fingers.

Note the Santa hat. Christmas movie

Early in the film we see John fight Tony, the sweatpantsed goon. Their fight doesn’t last long, but it preludes John’s later fight with the angry surviving brother, Karl. John and Tony run each other through drywall and I-beams until they tumble down a flight of stairs and Tony’s neck breaks.

Later we find ol’ McClane, snooping around the roof, and he realizes that it’s wired to explode. As soon as the helicopters land to rescue the hostages, Hans plans to blow the roof and escape from the basement in the chaos. It’s a good scheme that John is about to foil, until Karl pokes the barrel of a gun in his cheek.

“We are both professional,” Karl says, taking the radio. “This is personal.” John groans, knocks the gun away, and they fight. Boy, do they fight.

There’s plenty of construction material around Nakatomi, and much of it is about to get messed up. John drives Karl into a stack of empty barrels. He knees and punches him in the gut. Karl’s body hits the barrels behind him, giving each punch and echoing boom. Karl takes about eight such blows before landing one on John, which sends him to the floor.

Karl takes his time, kicking John in the face. Blood and drool pour from John’s face. He sees a gun and stands to get it, but Karl strikes with three more kicks. He’s enjoying this fight. The last kick sends John onto a pile of metal poles that slide down. John gets the upper hand and bashes Karl’s face into the poles. “You should have heard your brother squeal,” John shouts, when I broke his fucking neck.”

The two stumble outside. Karl finds the gun and shoots McClane in the shoulder. A terrific arterial spray covers the door as McClane escapes death. Karl kicks in the door to follow, but McClane is there to leap onto Karl. Both men land on a dolly and wheel backward. It’s hard to tell who is more angry at this point. The body blows are accompanied by more brutal thuds.

The fighters stumble onto the metal stairs leading to the roof. John mutters “fucker” and “I’ll kill you” as often as he strikes Karl. John head butts Karl, who grapples John and walks him up the stairs, right to the chains dangling from the ceiling. John wraps a chain around Karl’s neck and slides the pulley it’s attached to into the concrete wall. With a satisfying thud, John wins the fight. He takes a handgun and escapes.

The John/Karl fight ranks as a classic. The two men trade devastating punches that would knock out a normal person with one blow. Heads are smashed into metal poles. The sound effects work overtime. Blood doesn’t spew so much as it cakes, on faces, shirts, and hair. John’s muttering adds humor and character to the fight, reminding us that these aren’t two joyless goons doing battle, but men caught in a bad situation. Remember, “It’s personal.”

That fight aside, my pick for the single best stunt occurs at the end. Hans’s fall from the Nakatomi tower is an unforgettable image of pure fear. Alan Rickman didn’t have to act much in that scene. On set, Rickman dangled from a harness, ready to be dropped onto a mat. The director told him they would drop him on the count of three. They let Rickman go on “One,” so that look of pure fear was genuine.

Climax (6/6)

Hannibal Smith of The A-Team used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Hans Gruber’s plan is coming together nicely. He’s found the detonators needed to explode the roof, the FBI assholes are flying to the roof to greet the hostages, and the bearer bonds are packed and loaded, ready for the ambulance that will carry them to freedom. Everything’s going smoothly.

The only fly in the ointment is the continued survival of Mr. Officer John McClane of the New York Police Department. As the hostages scream on the roof, John runs up the stairs, killing the lone terrorist herding them. He shouts for Holly, Holly Gennaro. One of the Nakatomi employees, likely recognizing John, tells him she’s in the vault on the 30th floor. He fires his gun to get the hostages off the wired-to-blow roof.

The two FBI agents flying in the chopper try to kill John, thinking him a terrorist. “I’m on your side you assholes!” John shouts as he leaps over an edge to cover. John knows to get off the roof. The best, most insane option is the fire hose coiled in a box. He unfurls it, walks to the building’s edge, and ties it around his waist. “Oh John what the fuck are you doing?” he asks himself.

A spectacular shot has McClane, standing on the edge of the building, on the right quarter of the screen, while several cop cars flash their lights on the ground on the left three-quarters. He sees the FBI chopper behind him, an agent lining up a shot, and leaps. Hans simultaneously blows the roof. The fireball is seen from miles away. The Feds are dead, but John’s not. He falls down several floors. The fire hose wheel breaks and slides to the building’s edge.

Here comes the great bloody feet image. John streaks blood on the window as he tries to kick it open. That glass is much too strong for that to work, so he tries another method–blasting seven or eight rounds into it. That does it; he’s in. Once he unties the the hose and lets it fall 30 stories, John can wander through the building.

Marvel at this blood work.

Meanwhile, Theo’s in the basement driving an ambulance from the back of a cargo truck. Argyle sees this, and he creeps his limo toward him to investigate. The camera work here is superb, filming the slinking limo as if it is an alligator stalking its prey. Argyle crashes the ambulance into the door, scrambles out, and punches Theo out cold.

Back upstairs, John makes his final move. He’s checked his guns, checked ’em twice, and found out he can only shoot two bullets. Luckily for him, there’s packing tape nearby. How will that work?

John pistol whips a bad guy, sending many of the bonds sliding across the floor. He steps around the corner, machine gun at his hip, and screams. “HAAAAAANS!”

Hans holds Holly and gun. Holly sees her husband and is scared for the first time. “Hi honey,” John says. He slides his feet–hard to say he walks–into the room. Hans backs up and the other bad guy, who played the security guard, stands by a machine gun hanging from the dolly with the remaining bonds. We have a triangle of gun-wielding men. “So that’s what this was about?” John asks. “A fucking robbery?”

Hans fills in his plan’s final details. Someone will find a $600 million thief, unless they think he’s already dead. Hence the blowing of the roof. Again, Hans’s plan is superb. And, finally, he convinces John to drop his gun. Holly’s face is full of panic in that moment; she knows she’ll die, or at least watch her husband die.

The other bad guy takes his gun out to shoot John, but Hans calls him off. John puts his hands behind his head. “Still the cowboy, Mr. McClane,” Hans says. “Americans, all alike.” Then he gets a movie reference wrong, just like your mom does every weekend at dinner.

Hans peels his gun from Holly’s temple and slowly points it at John. “Yippie-ki-yay, mother fucker,” he says, repeating John’s line from earlier. John laughs, like a maniac. The other men join. It’s Christmas, a time for joy and laughter.

The camera lets us in on the joke. A handgun is taped to John’s back. He shouts at Holly, yanks the gun off his back, shoots Hans in the chest and the other bad guy between the eyes. Still the cowboy, he blows smoke from his empty gun and says, “Happy trails, Hans.”

Well, it ain’t over. Hans, still clutching Holly, falls out a window. He hangs from the building while gripping the watch on Holly’s wrist. Cue the slow motion. With a sneer and a head turn, Hans slowly points the gun toward Holly and John as the latter struggles to open the watch bracelet. When he does, the camera captures the unforgettable image of Hans falling, looking straight into the camera.

About as memorable as shots get.

Hans dies. Holly punches the reporter. Sgt. Powell saves the day, killing Karl, who has survived everything, somehow, giving the film unifying closure.

And finally, because this is a Christmas movie, we are treated to snow, of sorts, with $640 million in bearer bonds and other paper in place of snow.

Jokes (4/4)

John McClane oozes great lines. “Come out to the coast. We’ll get together, have a few laughs,” “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” and “No shit lady, you think I’m ordering a fucking pizza?!” are terrific lines.

Some more: “Who gives a shit about glass?” “I’m not the one who just got butt-fucked on national TV, Dwayne.” “Thanks for the advice.” Gems all around for John.

Ellis and his cocky, eighties-level cocaine habit are 100% funny. His entire sequence with Hans is platinum-level snobbery. “Hans, Bubby,” he says. “I use a fountain pen, you use a gun.”

Ode to Joy plays as the final vault door opens.

In many other movies he could be a scene-stealer, but no one steals scenes with Alan Rickman around. He is an exceptional thief.

Police and FBI incompetence offer good humor, as much, at least, as the German language usage amongst the bad guys. Yet the filmmakers balance this humor with gravity. Many people die in Die Hard, but never as a joke.

Setting (4/4)

Nakatomi Plaza is in Los Angeles, and watching snooty, coke-fueled Angelinos gunned down can be a gratifying experience. The building is unfinished, offering literally tons of materials for mayhem: poles, boards, glass panes, saws, etc., many of which are used in creative ways.

Learning what a TV dinner feels like.

During Die Hard, the elevator shafts and the entire lower level are destroyed, effectively trapping partygoers inside. They cannot escape except by killing their captors. The FBI shoots at them when they reach the roof. It’s John or nobody.

Part of what makes a setting important is how one answers this question: Could Die Hard have taken place elsewhere? Hans needed a helicopter pad and basement and hostages in high places to enact his plan. He needed a tower. I guess we could have seen the movie set in Chicago, or Houston, or Miami, but the shots of Nakatomi standing as the ONLY tower around made the scenes more dramatic. The fictional Nakatomi was THE best place to stage this movie.

Commentary (2/2)

John McTiernan, Die Hard‘s director, gets in some commentary, none better than FBI agents Johnson and Johnson. They are so darn cool about things when they arrive. Yet, they are so textbook, boring, and predictable, that they are the instruments by which Hans finally succeeds in opening the vault containing the bearer bonds. “You asked for a miracle,” Hans says to Theo as they await the opening of the final vault door. “I give you the F, B, I.”

The Johnsons’ effect on the story becomes funnier when you consider that Hans had no way to get inside the vault without them. When Hans kills Takagi for not giving him the vault codes he says, “Fine, we’ll do it the hard way.” When his hacker can’t break the seventh seal, Hans just tells him to be patient. “It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles.”

Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson

Law enforcement behaves in a manner so by-the-book predictable, egregious, and inadequate that viewers find themselves rooting a little bit for the quick-thinking, calm, and charming Hans. The FBI featured in Hans’s plan, undermining the moments when they are trying to get the job done by threatening a utility employee’s job.

Al’s superior, Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson (Paul Gleason), clearly doesn’t know how to react to the situation (“We got a lot of people down here covered in glass.” “You just destroyed a building!”), and the SWAT leader sends in his guys despite warnings not to. That this same LAPD would, in four years, nearly beat to death Rodney King, I don’t believe is a coincidence. These police know best, and if you aren’t one of theirs, get out of the way.

Die Hard has other things to say about our society. Al Powell is a fattening beat cop who’s memorized the ingredients to Twinkies. The asshole reporter, Richard Thornburg, threatens to call the INS on Holly Gennaro’s maid. Obesity and immigration are issues in America still, decades later, and McTiernan managed to squeeze a little something about them into his shoot-em-up.


Offensiveness (0/-2)

Die Hard is a movie with only one significant female character, Holly Gennaro, who is a hostage in need of saving. She is treated fairly. She’s the toughest and wisest of the hostages, and the only one of them to achieve any positive result. The two male hostages who interact with Hans (Ellis and Takagi) die for their hubris and subterfuge, and possibly because they were on cocaine.

The company being robbed is Japanese, and the CEO is Japanese. Hans, nor any of his men, ever stoop to name calling. Takagi is treated as well as the other hostages. That is, until he’s murdered.

Hans, as leader, is the most important member of the robbery team. Number two? Theo, an African American, who is the hacker. Die Hard is about as white-washed as most other Hollywood products, but the diversity on screen was ahead of its time.


  • The white-to-brown-to-gone metamorphosis of McClane’s tank top.

    The tank top
  • I love how Argyle doesn’t learn about the attack until he sees it on TV. He’s in the building.
  • Much ink has spilled over the Christmas-ness of Die Hard. I consider this a settled question, but you might not. Here’s why you should. Hans Gruber wanted to steal the bearer bonds locked in a vault atop the Nakatomi building. His plan demanded two facets: the presence of the company’s president, who knew the codes to the vault; and a minimum security and police presence. Both boxes could be checked only on Christmas Eve. Now, a movie set at Christmas does not a Christmas movie make, but McTiernan sprinkles holiday imagery throughout. “Now I have a machine gun Ho Ho Ho,” being one example. The giant bear sitting in the limo is another. Christmas decor stands in several scenes. The snowing of bearer bonds and other papers at the movie’s end. In Die Hard it’s Christmas all the way.
  • The camera work is fantastic. It tracks with moving vehicles and pans with moving characters. John, lying in an air duct, makes an indelible image.
  • “This is Special Agent Johnson. No, the other one.”

Summary (65/68): 96%

Die Hard: it’s the best.