Live Free or Die Hard

I was one of the few who were ridiculously thrilled when it was announced that, after years of rumors, there would finally be a fourth Die Hard film.  I’ve always been a huge Bruce Willis fan and I honestly couldn’t wait.  The original three are wonderful and unique and truly redefined what could be done on screen.  They’re three of the most pulse-pounding, hilarious, and heart-wrenching films in history, and they showed that just because you fill a movie with fights and explosions, it doesn’t mean there can’t be a heart and soul that soars and falls as much as in a great drama.  The Dragonslayer Myth was never (and hasn’t since been) so real, so pure, and so totally badass.

I’m here to say that Live Free or Die Hard delivers on all those fronts, though in a more restrained way.  The film takes one of my favorite characters in all of cinema and puts him in a believable and rather terrifying situation: a “terrorist” group has shut down the nation’s digital infrastructure, dealing a possibly fatal blow to the economic and social welfare of our country.  In today’s society, it doesn’t feel nearly as far fetched as it sounds.  They teamed our John McClane with an enjoyable sidekick (Justin Long), who keeps the plot rolling and makes McClane’s heroics seem even more incredible.  It’s a move that worked wonderfully in the third of the series and for the most part it pays off here.

The one aspect where Live Free or Die Hard seemed to fail (and fail is a relative term here) was in the role of the villain.  In the first three films you had villains who were as memorable as our heroes, who you enjoyed every moment they were on screen and who you missed when they weren’t.  Jeremy Irons brought a sadistic joy to his role in number three, William Sadler and John Amos brought a sense of reality and military discipline to number two, and Alan Rickman is one of the biggest Oscar snubs in history for his iconic role in number one.  Timothy Olyphant, however, brings very little.  The only real glimmer of a character comes in the moments where he is afraid of McClane, as he should be, but otherwise he is just a placeholder.  Part of the problem is that he is too young to be particularly threatening or wise, and he lacks any sort of color at all.  I’m not sure how much of that last bit is due to the writing, but I imagine he still wouldn’t have brought much to the table.

The action scenes are spectacular, particularly the helicopter chase and its finale.  There is an action piece in the end with a fighter jet that is fairly unnecessary, and it was probably inserted to throw in some more explosions before the tense and wonderfully low-key final sequence.  In my opinion they could have left it out, but the film doesn’t suffer much from the extra action.

What really matters, though, is our man McClane.  He is probably the most heroic of all movie heroes, and at the same time the most relatable.  Every hit he takes we all feel, which is part of the magic of the character, and part of the magic of Bruce Willis’ performance.  In the end, the only thing that can make this a Die Hard film instead of another action film is Willis and McClane.  He is older and slower and sadder, but he is still the same man, the one we want him to be.

The one real difference between the McClane of this film and the McClane of the others is that he makes more of an active choice to be involved.  In the first three he became involved against his free will and had no choice but to see the situation through.  In this film he is still thrown into things, but he has much more of an opportunity to step away and let others handle the situation.  At first I saw this as a negative, because the original trilogy was really an example of what a man can put himself through when he has no other choice but to die and allow others to die too.  This time he chooses to put himself through it all, because it’s the right thing to do, and someone has to.  If he had done nothing, the bad guys would have gotten away with their plan, but there would have been no personal cost to him.  But being the older and wiser man he is, McClane does what is right, and chooses to put himself at risk for the good of strangers.  I think that is the mark of good filmmaking, and it’s subtle.  A hero who does something heroic because he’s the hero isn’t nearly as interesting as a man who does something heroic because it’s the right thing to do.  And that is where John McClane really shines.

On a side note, to wrap this up, I’m rapidly losing my faith and my patience with the MPAA rating system.  Generally I think ratings aren’t that important in this day and age because you can easily go online (www.kids-in-mind.com) and see exactly what is in a movie before you take your family to see it.  It’s great that this information is available and it means there is no excuse for being surprised or offended by the content of a film.  The ratings are generally a guide for families, and I think that is great, but the R rating has really ceased to mean much.  As the rules stand, generally in a PG-13 movie you can say the word “fuck” or its derivatives 2 or 3 times as long as it is not in a sexual context.  Any amount over that line, or any sexual context, and you get an R rating.  I’m ok with that, as stupid as it is, but why have a rule if you can get around it?  When McClane delivers his signature line “Yippee-ki-yay Motherfucker!” a sound effect is used to cover the “fucker” part (only partially cover, you can still clearly hear it, I am glad to say).  How moronic is that?  Why base a rating on the existence of a phrase or word in a movie if you can get a lower rating by making it harder to hear, even when everyone can hear exactly what is being said and knows it anway?  For Pete’s sake, they used the line in the trailers and commercials for the movie, and on the posters.  By now everyone of every age knows what he’s saying (“Mommy, why does it say ‘Yippee-ki-yay Mo-” and cut off on the poster?  What does that mean?”).  It is dumb that there are words in our society that are forbidden, but it is far dumber that you can get away with obviously implying those words but not actually saying them.  It’s like we have rules just to make ourselves feel better when we do something we’re ashamed of or embarrassed by, because we really don’t understand why it’s something to be ashamed of or embarrassed by in the first place.

Anyways, I’m sorry about that, but it makes me furious (don’t even get me started on other aspects of the ratings, such as the disparity between violence and nudity in film).  Live Free or Die Hard was a real blast, incredibly exciting and funny, and, with the exception of the villain, exactly what we expect from a film with Die Hard in the title.  It’s a white-knuckle thrill-ride which will be hard to beat this summer.  Yippee-ki-yay Motherfucker!
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2 thoughts on “Live Free or Die Hard

  1. Awesome review for an awesome movie. (I linked you again.) Sorry to hear about the job, as well, but I’ll be pulling for you to find something out here in the East!

    -Bret

    Like

  2. Pingback: Review: A Good Day to Die Hard | Love Pirate's Ship's Log

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