Die Hard (1988)
Succeeded by: Die Hard 2 (1990)
One could be made to wonder if it is a coincidence that the main "good guys" in Die Hard in subsequent years have turned out to be pro-war, pro-American advocates (Willis, Davi), whereas many of the "bad guys" are rather artsy and unpolitical (Rickman, Godunov). Probably, it has little to do with the nature of this film, but there's little doubt that Willis' performance here is credible and convincing in as far as he really believes in John McClane as a one-man army and fighter for good, American values. After all, this is a man whose existence and legacy goes back to General Custer, through John Wayne and Dirty Harry - including all the one-man vigilantes that have come to represent the freedom and individuality of American history and culture.
The difference, in many ways, is the humour McClane brings with him. He is not the cool, indifferent guy with a death wish who seeks solitude and shies away from interpersonal situations, but rather he is a charming and fairly social figure - a modernized version of the cowboy, if you like. Politically, however, he is very much in line with his predecessors. And his adversaries are, unfortunately for the film, also mostly as flat and uninspired as they have always been in American action films. That goes particularly for the supporting players - on both sides of the law. The exception is Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber who brings the style and diversity needed to match McClane in their encounters.
Die Hard is first and foremost a brilliantly executed action film. It has the tension and sense of space and location that makes it come alive and feel vibrant. The thematics are only mildly interesting, but the cat-and-mouse hunt never seizes to appeal, and the script is full of creative and suspenseful twists and turns that, seen in view of the genre, never get too out of hand or ridiculous. Kudos to an industrious McTiernan and his cutting crew who made the film a tight and potent effort - despite its share of awkward moments. Kudos also to a revelling Bruce Willis who brought the action hero one step closer to human.