Die Hard: McClane Meets Hans

Posted on December 19, 2015 at 8:00 am

Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. And this scene, featured in my book, 101 Must-See Movie Moments, is one of my favorites.

Writer Rodrick Thorp saw the movie, “The Towering Inferno,” and that night he dreamed of a man being chased through an office building by men with guns. He turned that idea into a sequel to his book, The Detective (made into a movie by that name starring Frank Sinatra). And that book, which he called Nothing Lasts Forever was adapted for one of the most enduringly popular action films of all time, “Die Hard,” starring Bruce Willis.

It is Christmas. New York City cop John McLane (Willis) is on his way to see his estranged wife at her new office in the Nakatomi building, a skyscraper in LA. But the building is taken over by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in his first feature film) who wants the authorities to think he is a terrorist. That is a diversion — he is just after money in the form of bearer bonds. Gruber has figured everything out based on standard police procedures. But McLane is anything but standard. He hides out in the building and defeats Gruber’s men one by one as they come after him, despite a lot of interference from well-meaning cops, civilians, and a television reporter and with some help from a good-hearted local police officer.

Willis is ideally cast as a wise-ass cop who does not play by the rules. His wife (Bonnie Bedelia) sees how angry one of the bad guys is and instantly knows her husband is still alive: “Only John can drive someone that crazy.” The script, largely based on Thorp’s book, is clever and exciting. But one of the best plot turns was impromptu, inspired by some off-screen fooling around.

Rickman, now best known as “Harry Potter’s” Severus Snape, was born in London and is a classically trained actor. This is a rare instance where a newcomer playing the villain takes full advantage of the audience’s unfamiliarity to keep surprising us. (Another good example is Edward Norton, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Primal Fear.”)

As Gruber, Rickman speaks with a German accent. For most of the movie, while we see Gruber, his only contact with McLane is his voice, via the walkie-talkie and intercom system.

Then the two men see each other for the first time and we expect a confrontation. But Rickman was showing off his impeccable American accent between scenes and director John McTiernan realized that this presented a great opportunity for a twist.

McLane rushes in and sees a man who starts talking to him with a perfect American accent and the demeanor of a frightened executive who has never been exposed to violence. Gruber seamlessly eases straight into another accent and another persona. As the final version of the shooting script puts it, “The transformation in his expression and bearing are mind-boggling.” Instead of the icy German barking orders, he is immediately a completely convincing terrified American, begging McLane not to shoot. We know it is Gruber, but McLane doesn’t.

Whether McLane is convinced or not is for us to discover. But at that moment, Rickman is so persuasive, even some audience members may be confused.

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For Your Netflix Queue Great Movie Moments

John Hanlon says “Die Hard” is a Valentine’s Day Movie

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 8:37 am

My friend John Hanlon has a funny column on CNN today about why “Die Hard” is a perfect Valentine’s Day movie (for guys).

Men often imagine winning a girl’s affection by proving their worth in a battle against someone or something that threatens their loved one’s life. While many women want the men in their lives to be sensitive like Ryan Gosling’s “Notebook” character Noah, guys aspire to be like the renegade John McClane in “Die Hard.”

But he leaves out my favorite quote in the movie, Mrs. McClane’s tender but knowing assessment of her estranged husband: “He’s still alive.  Only John can drive somebody that crazy.”

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A Good Day to Die Hard

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Chases.  Explosions.  Guns.  Crashes.  Wisecracks. Punches.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  Yes, it’s the fifth “Die Hard” movie.

Bruce Willis returns as cop John McClane and this time the setting is Moscow.  Though he repeatedly says throughout the film’s zippy 90 minutes that he is on vacation, McClane is in Russia to help his estranged son Jack (Australian actor Jai Courtney of “Spartacus”), who has been arrested for attempted murder.  It turns out that Jack, who uses his mother’s last name and has not spoken to John in years, is actually under cover for the CIA.  Both the Russians and the Americans want a “file” that has been hidden away by a man named Komorov (Sebastian Koch), who is about to go on trial.  It contains incriminating information about a high-ranking Russian official.  He wants it destroyed.  The Americans want to use it to discredit him.  The stakes are very high.  The chases are very fast.  The explosions are very big.  The repartee is….not great, but thankfully minimal.

Unlike his “Expendables” colleagues Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, whose 2013 action film releases managed to be both lackluster and overheated, with so much work done on their faces they looked like bad copies of Madame Tussaud’s replicas of themselves, Willis is every bit as good and better than he was in the first “Die Hard” film a quarter century ago.  Regrettably, we get only a glimpse of the fabulous Mary Elizabeth Winstead, briefly returning as John’s daughter, Lucy, to drop him at the airport and admonish him to behave (as if!).  But Courtney is well-matched to Willis, with their bullet heads, truculent glares, and cocky pleasure in their own outrageous badassery.  John may pause for a brief “Cat’s in the Cradle” reverie with Komorov in between dodging bullets, as they ruefully reflect on their failures as fathers, but shortly afterward, as John and Jack awkwardly observe a tender parent-child reunion, they agree that nothing like that would work for them.  “We’re not a hugging family,” Jack says.  “Damn straight,” agrees his father.

The locations are exotic, and the chase scene through the streets of Moscow is wilder than any since the last “Die Hard.”  The titles may be getting increasingly labored but Willis and the stunts make it work.

Parents should know that this film has constant peril and violence.  Many characters are injured and killed, and there is a lot of shooting, punching, chases and explosions, some graphic and disturbing images, and strong language.

Family discussion:  How are John and Jack alike?  Why was Jack so angry with John?  What changed his mind?

If you like this, try: the other “Die Hard” movies, especially the first and third

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Action/Adventure Crime Family Issues Series/Sequel Spies

Opening this Week: Valentine’s Day Romance With “Safe Haven,” “Beautiful Creatures,” and…”Die Hard 5″

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

This week’s releases are opening a day early for your Valentine’s Day enjoyment.  Those looking for a date night movie  on February 14 have two choices, both based on popular books.  Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven is the story of a woman running from her past (Julianne Hough) who meets a small-town widower with two children (Josh Duhamel). Also set in a small southern town, Beautiful Creatures is a supernatural teen romance about a mortal boy and a “caster” girl with magical powers.  It stars Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert as the young couple and Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons, Emmy Rossum, and Emma Thompson as the adults in their lives who bring complications, help, and sometimes both.

Then there’s a bit of counter-programming with the fifth of the “Die Hard” series.  Bruce Willis returns as John McClane in “A Good Day to Die Hard.”  Twenty-three years after Christmas at the Nakatomi Plaza, McClane will be Yippy-Ki-Yaying in Russian as his adventures take him to Moscow.

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Opening This Week
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