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20. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Die Hard

October 9, 2018

Director: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson
Runtime: 132 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1988

 

★★★★★

 

Unlike the cartoon it became, the original Die Hard is still something special. A loose adaptation of Roderick Thorps’s Nothing Lasts Forever, it’s used as more of a platform to launch its own harsher, more involving and simplistic story. To say it’s simple though doesn’t do justice to the stupendous work of Stuart and De Souza’s screenplay. 

 

Matched with John McTiernan’s on ball direction, this is visual storytelling of the highest level for this genre. Everything makes sense within its own universe, with evidence portrayed in silence without the need for plodding exposition. It’s aged incredibly well thanks to a reliance on model work and practical effects that still hold a tremendous amount of scale to this day. 

 

Jan de Bont’s cinematography is fantastic, conveying the claustrophobia of the levelled environment with ease while giving the effects a sense of magnitude on the outside.

 

In one of the more shocking twists of its production, it turned out that Willis, who had till this point been considered a fairly comical television star, was actually a born action star – with all the charisma of his Moonlighting roots benefiting a character caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

 

John McClane isn’t a default badass; he’s just a normal, cocky off-duty police officer making do with the situation at hand. Rickman is insidiously well cast as the terrorist leader, Hans Gruber, and the supporting cast of everyone from Bedelia and VelJohnson, to Gleason and Atherton, are all as game for tackling the characters as Willis. 

 

Die Hard a great film in its own right. Perfectly toned, executed and performed by all of its contributors, with a subversive narrative drive more relaxed and capable than any other made in the 80s. The jokes hit, the punches are felt and arcs are wonderfully fulfilled.

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