When robbers seize hostages in an LA high-rise, an off-duty cop fights alone to save them, including among the hostages…his wife. [ Die Hard credits: Dir: John McTiernan/ Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia/ 131 min/ Action-Adventure, Thriller/ Individualism]
Two lines in this film sum up its theme. When bad-guy Hans Gruber says to John McClane, the hero at the center of this story: “Who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon? Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?,” McClane replies defiantly “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
You know in that moment exactly who John McClane is: an individualist American hero, cut from the cloth of a “cowboy” culture that celebrates the idea of an independent, self-reliant person standing alone against all odds for what is right.
Working against him are his chief adversary, Hans Gruber — a poised, organized, “classically-educated” gentleman thief; various incompetent, overbearing representatives of organized law enforcement; and a self-serving journalist. This is a film that pits the ordinary guy — who still values, respects, and at his best embodies heroic individualism — against an array of smug elites, who, whether operating for good or evil, despise him and what he represents.
The battle between these two visions plays out over two hours of some of the best action scenes ever filmed, and Bruce Willis is ideal as the tough but not invulnerable good guy, who must overcome every manner of adversity to win. The action is interspersed to good effect with trademark Bruce Willis gallows humor, and musically underscored with Christmas music? Yes, events take place in an office building where a Christmas party was underway, with all the associated images; and that has made this film a recurring holiday favorite.
It would be easy to view Die Hard as a simple action film, but anyone attuned to the culture wars going on in the entertainment world will see it is something more. It’s a two-fisted battle of ideas, between those who would condemn “cowboy” individualism and those who live it. It’s a Christmas celebration of the hero in all of us.
“The very pinnacle of the ’80s action movie, and if it’s not the greatest action movie ever made, then it’s damn close.”
“Within the narrow framework of the hard-action genre, Die Hard is almost as good as it gets.”