Weekend Film Recommendation: Die Hard

Yippee Ki-Yay Mother F….Die Hard is non-traditional Christmas movie fun

One of the great self-referential pop culture moments of recent years occurred on the TV show 30 Rock, when Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) portentously intoned “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer….Hans Gruber”.

My last Christmas film recommendation features the ultimate Yuletide villain. Unlike the Grinch, he is never redeemed. He would shoot Mr. Potter through the head in style, blow up Scott Farkis with gelignite, and hurl Heat Miser from an 80 story skyscraper. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the best of Christmas cinema baddies: Alan Rickman’s deliciously evil, funny, cultured, intelligent and violent Hans Gruber in this week’s film recommendation, 1988’s Die Hard. Truly, this is a Christmas movie for all members of your family who like watching things explode.

The plot: Rough and ready New York cop John McLain (Bruce Willis) has come to sunny L.A. for Christmas to try to repair his rocky marriage to his wife Holly (Bonny Bedelia). Holly has taken a dream job at the Nakatomi corporation, returned to using her maiden name (ouch!), and thrived as a corporate executive without John around. But before they can get back to serious bickering, John and Holly have to deal with an international team of super-terrorists (think of them as like the EU, but competent) who take over the Nakatomi building. John has his wisecracks, his courage and lots of guns, but the bad guyys are more numerous and have cooler accents, especially their Über-planner and leader Hans (Rickman).

This is a rock ’em sock ’em action film leavened with many pricelessly funny lines, most of them voiced by Willis or Rickman. The plot has many surprising twists and turns as Hans’ plan unfolds, McLain throws spanners into the works, and then Hans adapts, contingency by carefully planned contingency. Not much in the way of traditional holiday themes, but there are some gifts and Santa hats and pine trees and such around, so there it is, your final Christmas film recommendation.

After you have watched this thrilling movie, you might consider what you would do for a dying friend who had a special last request…

Merry Christmas to all you orphans of a bankrupt culture.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

16 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Die Hard”

  1. This is always my choice when asked for a favorite Christmas movie. Not only does it have RUN-DMC’s ” Christmas in Hollis,” but it also contains the immortal “now I have a machine gun ho ho ho.” Although on Christmas itself I generally prefer “The Wild Bunch.”

    1. Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest was a certified good guy.

      And there’s him being cast as a … morally ambiguous character more recently.

  2. There’s a funny bit concerning a side bet between 2 of the criminals. The problem is that the joke is ruined by excessive telegraphing in some cuts of the movie.

    You’ll know it when you see it. Man, I love this flick.

    1. One thing about the politics of this movie: watching it now, it almost makes you nostalgic. In it’s own way, it’s conservative in that it views anti-capitalist rhetoric as a ruse created by greedy criminals out to take what they can get. And it hates journalists and academics who suggest that the hostages are likely in the first stages of Stockholm Syndrome (Helsinki Syndrome in the movie).

      But in every other sense, the movie is liberal: the Japanese businessmen aren’t portrayed as a yellow peril; McClane is bemused but not angered by the drunk Nakatomi suit who kisses him on the cheek; the black limo driver gets his heroic moment, as does the black cop, and the smart bad guy hacker is a black American addition to the European group; the Latina maid/nanny is a sympathetic figure who’s forced to put the children in front of TV cameras when a sleazy journalist threatens rat on her to the INS; and the movie pointedly suggests that McClane’s at fault for not being able to deal with his wife’s career success. And one of the FBI agents, who gets a rush when he likens the gunship raid he’s about to participate in to sorties in Vietnam, is made out to be a buffoon.

      I can’t imagine a movie like this with this sort of unironic inclusive right-wing politics coming out now, or frankly ever again. Redbelt, written by the unabashed conservative David Mamet, is the only one I can think of off the top of my head (and as much as Mamet’s mannered dialogue calls attention to itself, I love the crap out of it).

      Which is only a side note. The movie is great.

  3. My husband and I make viewing this while wrapping presents part of our Christmas tradition. Last year the 14yo walked in and was stunned to see the barely (to him) recognizable Snape with a German accent.

  4. I suggest that the ultimate Yuletide villain is to be found in Rare Exports, a perfect antidote to Home Alone.

    (Or you could decide that Macaulay Culkin is himself the UYV.)

  5. If you can find it at your library, definitely read the novel on which this is based, “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp. The novel is actually a sequel to Thorp’s earlier “The Detective,” which was itself made into a film starring Frank Sinatra; but the producers who held the rights to this decided to make a standalone film. There are some differences, many of them key (the terrorist motivations and one of the central relationships) but otherwise, the film hews amazingly close to the novel. Much of the dialogue and action sequences exist right there on the page.

    1. How very interesting Phil, thanks. I was just yesterday reading about Robert Evans, whose first “property” was The Detective. Didn’t know the same author had written Die Hard!

  6. One of the four or five greatest action movies of all time. In a genre that has hopelessly stagnated it still stands out. Whenever a new action movie comes out and a friend wants to go see it, I always respond, “Tell me what’s so great about this movie that I would rather see it than just put Die Hard in the DVD player again.”

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