Off-duty cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) tries to put on-the-take terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) under a vest in this oft-quoted Christmas classic.
Stripping The Towering Inferno down to its skeleton, Die Hard delivers all the quips, grit and Reaganite action that 1988 demanded. And the vestive fun still holds up, not because of its plot (why rob an office during a party?) or technology (remember Filofaxes?) but its humanity. In a genre dominated by indestructible heroes and ineffectual villains, Gruber is highly capable and McLane strangely vulnerable.
Director John McTiernan accomplished something similar in his previous picture Predator, reducing the most muscular of action heroes (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to a hunter’s plaything. Here he applies the principle “if it bleeds, we can kill it” to Willis. Barefoot, bedraggled and emasculated by his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia), McLane seems physically and emotionally exposed.
In the sequels that humanity would sadly go the way of Willis’ hair, but here it makes the high-rise high concept feel rugged and raw. McClane is a mouse in a maze having a particularly bad day, as America’s reluctant working-class saviour and soon-to-be bald eagle. McTiernan exploits the architecture for literal wall-to-wall action, venting against the corporate world and shafting the media and FBI.
Conceptually cynical yet structurally sound, Die Hard‘s simplicity is elevated by memorable characters (badasses called John anyone?) and cultural references ranging from Beethoven’s 9th to Roy Rogers. It stands as a towering ode to Roy, the legacy of Alan Rickman and the last vest-iges of action cinema’s golden age.