Monday, December 08, 2008

die hard [1988]

coming up with a list of christmas flicks i wanted to stay away from the obvious. i mean, if i see jimmy stewart again in capra's classic i might just upchuck this season's eggnog. okay, that's an exaggeration because stewart is always great even in drivel and capra knew how to direct sap into very good movies. possibly even great films. but it's a wonderful life is so much an obvious christmas movie.

now, die hard, that's a christmas movie. the action proceeds during christmas eve as bruce willis, in a star making role, portrays a nyc cop, john mcclane, estranged from his wife and kids who live in l.a. mcclane's wife, played by bonnie bedelia, is a successful executive in a japanese company who uses her maiden name. she invites john to l.a. for christmas. they'll meet at holly's company's christmas party. then the party is interrupted by european thugs who are not what they seem. led by the charismatic hans gruber, deliciously played by the great alan rickman, the thugs turn out not to be terrorists as first thought but thieves of a high order as they eyeball the company's 6 hundred million plus change held in a vault.

is that plausible? do blue-chip companies keep that sort of cash around for pin money? i doubt it but what is logic and being reasonable matter in an american action film. for it is the lone cowboy, mcclane, to stop the thugs by blowing them away one by one till only gruber and him face off like 2 gunslingers in an old western. both gruber and mcclane wear their archetypes so closely they might as well being wearing white and black cowboy hats.

and there you have it. mcclane is a violent gary cooper whose rubric goes something like yippee-ki-ya, motherfucker. contrast that with the disciplined cool intellect of european gruber. no match? well, recall that this film was made still in reagan's america when the u.s. pretended to be that city on a hill. a beacon of might and purity and goodness. our heroes speak softly and carry a big stick. and they use it too. the intellect is no match for brawn. at least in this vision quest.

still, the movie is all sheen and little depth. yet it is tightly wound and the action keeps spinning as if we were riding a roller coaster. it might seem incidental that die hard takes place on christmas eve. but i don't think so. the filmmakers rubs christmas in our faces with holiday music on heavy rotation in the soundtrack, decorations everywhere, and characters making little holiday quips from reel 1 to the last line. back in the '80s the u.s. was giving itself to the world as a gift whether it wanted it or not. or so it seemed that the u.s. wanted to. the u.s. as impulsive, quick to violence but ever so resourceful. unless you are fbi who are made a brunt of a joke in this flick. but what's love without a little arrogance. yippee-ki-ya, motherfuckers.


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