This is the second in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.
After the family-friendly, undeniably Christmassy comedy of watching Home Alone yesterday, the feel of the movies on this list was switched up a bit by the introduction of Die Hard. Although it is technically a Christmas film, Die Hard isn’t really one of the first to come to mind if somebody asked you to name festive movies. It follows an NYPD cop, John McClane (played by Bruce Willis), who has to try and save a group of people – including his estranged wife – who are being held hostage by a team of terrorists. And it’s set at Christmas.
Before watching this film, I was very reluctant to see it. It’s rated R (or 18 in the UK), which I assumed was for violence. Therefore, watching this film would go against my rule of not watching films rated R for violence. This isn’t for moral reasons or anything – I am just a complete coward when it comes to seeing violent films. But according to my parents, it wasn’t that gory, and I really did want to add it to this list of Christmas films. So, I watched it.
Turns out, it isn’t really that violent. Okay, a lot of people are killed, and there is quite a bit of blood at points. There’s even one scene, which I have heard described as a “graphic execution scene”, that I covered my eyes for. So I can’t really vouch for how grisly that scene is, but the rest of the movie is really quite bearable, even for a wuss like me. I would even give the film a 15+ rating in the violence area, if it were rated on that alone. So what earned it the 18 rating? Language. That’s right, the film I had been so terrified to see had been rated primarily on the basis of foul language, something that doesn’t bother me in the slightest in movies. Ugh……..I’ll have to check my sources better next time. On to the film.
So as I mentioned before, Die Hard focuses on a New York police officer that ends up facing a bunch of criminals who have taken some people hostage in the very tall Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. This group of law-breakers is headed by the dignified, level-headed German Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. John McClane basically just happens to be in the building when the whole incident kicks off, except that he is in a room outside of the Christmas party where basically everyone else in the building seems to be. Being the initiative-taking police officer he is, McClane immediately grabs his gun and runs off – leaving his shoes behind in the process – to find some way to rescue the party-goers who have now been taken hostage. The rest of the film follows McClane’s attempts to thwart the terrorists plans, while also interacting via radio with Gruber and a local policeman. We’re also shown the bad guys’ side of things, seeing Gruber adjust his plans constantly as McClane disrupts them.
A great thing about this film is the contrast between McClane and Gruber, the hero and villain, respectively. Whilst McClane is pretty much stressed-out from the time the hostages are taken, Gruber maintains a cool facade for the first hour or so of the film. McClane is constantly muttering to himself, swearing, and occasionally freaking out. He makes mistakes and gets scared, and is generally a wonderful example of an imperfect but nonetheless likeable and tough hero. Gruber seems almost an opposite to McClane at the start – killing in cold blood, striding around wearing smart suits, and making references to both high and popular culture at times when you would think he’d be focused on more pressing issues. However, he gradually breaks down over the course of the film. Gruber starts swearing and becomes visibly anxious as he fails to “neutralise” the threat of McClane. Both Willis and Rickman do a fantastic job of portraying their individual characters, and you get a real sense of the personalities of each of them as the film progresses.
Many action films these days are all about the explosions, gunshots, and overall action of the movies. They try to impress us with high-tech gadgets and impossibly cool main characters, leaving realism on the sidelines. This is fine in itself, and Die Hard isn’t exactly what you’d call a realistic film, but it also puts large amount of emphasis on less flashy aspects of cinema. The acting and music of the film add as much to it as the huge explosions, and the quiet drama of scenes between only a few people can be just as exciting as a large-scale, helicopter battle scene. Though the blowing-up and violent parts of the film are done well, Die Hard doesn’t come across as dependent on these aspects of the film. And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the fighting, shooting, and exploding scenes of the film, it’s nice to know that they aren’t the only thing you’ve paid money to watch.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that Die Hard surpassed my expectations in yet another area: Christmassy-ness. The plot summary from above gives the impression that this film doesn’t place a great deal of importance on the “true spirit of Christmas”, or even the holiday’s famous tokens – such as snow, pine trees, or presents. That impression would be correct, but Die Hard does incorporate Christmas in a rather unique way. The use of Christmas symbols and themes in Die Hard comes across as sort of ironic in many circumstances. The terrorists invade a Christmas party at the start of their plans, and so the action of the film begins in a scene filled with the usual festive decorations. This is a minor point, though. Later, when McClane kills a man and takes his machine gun, he leaves the body with the following message written on it in blood: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” The main musical theme of the baddies is Ode to Joy* and characters of all kinds regularly reference Christmas. Gruber mentions it being the season of miracles, whilst McClane queries Takagi about whether the Japanese even celebrate Christmas at all. This film references Christmas in unique ways, although we are often reminded that this is indeed “the season to be jolly”. The way Die Hard includes Christmas in a type of film that would have nothing to do with it on a normal day is one of the reasons it has made such a good addition to this list.
In summary, I loved Die Hard. I thought it was a great film that wasn’t too violent, had brilliant acting, and even featured quite a bit of humour. It was really enjoyable to watch, and I’m very glad it was included on this list. If nothing else, it should pose as quite a contrast to tomorrow’s film: A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Overall rating: 9/10
Christmassy-ness rating: 5/10
Mary’s parental guidance rating: 15 for violence, 18 for language. Overall 18.
Tomorrow’s film: A Charlie Brown Christmas
* Fun fact: Michael Kamen, the film’s composer, was reluctant to use a piece by such a legendary musician as Beethoven in an action film. McTiernan, the Die Hard’s director, then reminded him that the same music had been used as background music for violent scenes in A Clockwork Orange. Kamen was a fan of Kubrick, who directed A Clockwork Orange, and so ultimately agreed to use the song in the film. Gruber even hums Ode to Joy at one point in Die Hard.