Thursday, December 15, 2011

DIE HARD (1988)

On the twenty-first Lynchian day of Christmas, we present John McTiernan's classic Christmas action movie Die Hard (1988). NYPD Officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) has a troubled marriage after he decides to stay in New York when his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) leaves with their children to Los Angeles where she pursues a career as an executive with the Nakatomi Corpoaration. John hides behind the veneer of his job for not following Holly to L.A., but seems secretly resentful and displaced when she becomes the more successful breadwinner of the family. Holly invites John to her company's celebration on Christmas Eve, where she hopes to reconcile with her husband, or at worst find closure. But a group of terrorists crash the party, led by the fastidious Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who hold everyone hostage. John and Holly are forced reexamine their relationship while fighting for survival.
Although a relatively straightforward action film on the surface, Die Hard was created with a remarkably nuanced eye for detail in several Lynchian aspects of film production. For instance, McTiernan establishes a clear sense of place in his portrayal of Nakatomi Tower, where the majority of the film takes place. It is a magical cinematic world that feels exciting and richly textured on one hand, yet still feels like a familiar and realistic Los Angeles skyscraper. Second, the film possesses a quirky ensemble of characters practically on the order of Twin Peaks. These characters comfortably shift between discussions of old movie Western archetypes and the nutritional value of American junk food—like Twinkies—in between bloodbaths of automatic gun fire and large scale explosions.
And this action film is cast against type in a Lynchian fashion, being populated primarily with an entertaining mix of comedic actors instead of the usual crop of action stars. Although considered a modern day "King of Action Movies" today, at the time Bruce Willis was considered a peculiar choice as the lead actor for this film since he was known entirely for his comedic roles. A lot of people did not see how the star of Blind Date (1987) and the romantic sitcom Moonlighting (1985-89) could carry an action movie, but Die Hard instantly shut everyone up and launched Bruce Willis into action stardom.

Die Hard's immense popularity and simple premise also made it a catchall shorthand for Hollywood producers whenever they wanted to make a similar type of action movie. The best of that crop is undoubtedly Speed (1994), which was pitched as, "Die Hard on a bus!" But as easy as it is to pick apart Die Hard's lackluster sequels or get annoyed with the many shoddy knockoffs that came after it, the original Die Hard's reputation is well deserved. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hollywood has been gushing praise over this movie for decades. It is a unique action film that never cheats on its drama and comedy, and as funny as it sounds, Die Hard remains one of the best unconventional Christmas movies ever made.

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22ND DAY: BRAZIL (1985)

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