Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis Alan Rickman Bonnie Bedelia
Release Date: 15th July 1988 (UK)
Often I am asked what my favourite Christmas film is. OK, not that often, but it does happen. I think one of the reasons I am actually rarely asked is because I always say that it is a film released in 1988’s Summer and rather than the Christmas tropes of having candy canes, presents and Santa, this one features guns, a wife beater vest and Alan Rickman sometimes speaking without moving his mouth. I am talking of course of 1988’s Die Hard.
If you judge a film entirely by its sequels, well you are an idiot. I do not believe in the theory that no sequels are better than the first in the series (just check out The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or Godfather Part 2 (1974) for proof), but it is somewhat forgivable based on the lacklustre 4th and 5th entries in the series. The third was enjoyable (personally my favourite of the 5) but mainly just a good buddy cop film and does not particularly expand or even utilise the franchise well. And the second is a near carbon copy of this slice of yuletide excellence. Well, this is a review of what beats classics such as Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) and It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) to the punch of greatest film to represent the season, and by the end of this page I hope you agree.
The story is … well, nothing too outstanding. It brings little new to the proceedings and was based largely upon the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe. It follows fairly straight the standard action movie plot line of a protagonist who has to overcome a few factors in order to secure an outcome (in this case, by relocating bullets from his machine gun’s magazine into a bunch of Alan Rickman lead villains at a Christmas party – something many of us can no doubt identify with). It must be said however that Die Hard follows this well-trodden formula so very well that the action film genre itself almost is now a sub-genre of this series. Films such as Air Force One (1997) can be thus described as Die Hard … on the POTUS’s plane. Some one man army movies such as Rambo, released a full six years before John McClane celebrated Christmas in July for the first time, as wildly successful as they are, cannot lay claim to being so well regarded they are almost a catch all term for an entire grouping of film.
Bruce Willis’ performance is a little on the not particularly great side, it’s nothing for Meryl Streep to lose sleep over and it is quite apparent why he was far from the first choice for the role. The fact is however, much like Bill Murray in the classic Ghostbusters, Willis ad libs so much of his final dialogue, it is a wonder if he actually read the script and he probably deserves a writing credit himself, so much so he was given virtual carte blanche to do the same during production of its sequels (something which might have led to Bruce becoming more than difficult to direct as detailed ad nauseum by Kevin Smith).
This is something of a blessing in my opinion as with the exception of one of this nation’s finest acting talents in Alan Rickman, the dialogue from almost all characters seems more than a bit flat and wooden. Therefore, it could be argued that Willis’ ad libs saved this film from becoming a forgettable one and into the realm of annual classics.
Roger Ebert was critical of its use of somewhat stereotypical policemen characters and to some extent I agree, even a virtual cameo by Robert Davi as an FBI Agent (he would go on to feature as the principle villain in the next summer’s Licence To Kill) does not detract from this. But overall, with the comic genius leading acting from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman just oozing with charisma, it more than makes up for any shortfalls and would mean this is a worthy staple of anybody’s Christmas.