Director: John McTiernan
Writer: Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart
Cinematographer: Jan de Bont
by Jon Cvack
I’ve seen this movie so many times, stating it's the 10th time is a highly conservative estimate. It wasn’t until my friend Tim showed us a strange, subtitled commentary that was included on an old special edition DVD that I understood how great of a filmmaker McTiernan is. And why Die Hard with a Vengeance is just as good, or in my opinion, better than the original.
I never realized how funny this movie is, and I don’t mean condescendingly funny. I mean it’s hilarious. All of the characters are so full of depth and personality, each possessing a great sense of humor. It never takes itself too seriously, it just takes all of the action extremely seriously. And I realize this is why so few can replicate Die Hard's greatness. Too many approach action films by being badass and extremely serious. You want to know why student and amateur action movies are so bad? I’m talking the micro budgets with bad After Effects - it’s because there’s no humor, terrible action, and no good characters. To blend these two elements is of the highest importance in an action movie. It’s why Armageddon is amazing, The Rock, Speed, Con Air, and so on. In fact, Live Free or Die Hard (pt. IV) or A Good Day to Die Hard (pt. V) make this exact mistake - I can’t remember a single character beyond McClane and was often laughing at the films rather than with.
Like any great film, it’s about all about balancing the elements, which McTiernan did expertly. The fact that he’s currently in prison is even more badass, makes this film even cooler, and makes me that much more excited for him to get out and get the series back on track. It also makes me wonder what other films are out there that are that much funnier in a public viewing. Even at the end, when I remember thinking it was a cheesy, poignant scene between Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and John after finally escaping, the theater roared with laughter as the blond guy returns, Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) and John shoot him dead, leaving John and Holly to head off into the sunset like out of a western, except it’s a burning building in the background instead of a desert.
Equally fascinating, and like any great film contains, is the ripeness of depth and commentary - we got the media and it’s intrusive, bleeds-it-reads/anything goes philosophy; Mr. Tikati's entrepreneurial spirit, who built the company from the ground floor after spending over ten years in grad school, knowing what’s valuable is not the money, but personal bonds and exotic art; there’s the police bureaucracy, between an assistant Chief, the FBI, and a street officer. I bet it’d be hard for you NOT to remember a supporting character from this film. Not just their look, but things about them. Their lines, their personality, their purpose. It is such an original film, which so many have tried to replicate and nearly all have failed. This is what an action movie is suppose to be. If you ever get the chance to see this in a movie theater - ditch whatever plans you have and go see it.
BELOW: McClane meeting Hans - this scene gets better with every viewing.
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