Alan Rickman Tribute: Die Hard

Jarrod Emerson’s Tribute to Alan Rickman

Part 1: DIE HARD (1988)


‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the 40-story Nakatomi Plaza not a creature was stirring except for the company Christmas bash on the 30th floor. Having just landed in LA, New York cop “John McClane” (Bruce Willis) joins the party hoping to reconnect with his estranged wife “Holly” (Bonnie Bedelia), now one of Nakatomi’s senior executives. However, the plaza is besieged by a group of skilled terrorists led by “Hans Gruber” (Rickman).  Jet-lagged, barefoot, and armed only with a service revolver, McClane barely manages to evade capture as he seeks refuge in the stairwells. Now stealthily moving throughout the locked-down skyscraper, McClane tries desperately to avoid detection, alert the outside world, and to protect his wife from these lethal criminals.

It may be difficult to imagine a time when high adrenaline action or siege films weren’t spat out like clockwork, or when Bruce Willis wasn’t an action star. Based on the Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Die Hard went through several false starts (including vehicles for both Burt Reynolds and Arnold Schwarzenegger!) before finally falling into the hands of director John McTiernan. In adapting the novel, McTeirnan and company wisely decided to make entertainment their first priority, nixing the novel’s politically motivated, all-German terrorist group in favor of a diverse gang of deadly thieves who merely use terrorism as a ruse. Their true agenda is to rob the company vault of its 640 million dollars of bearer bonds!  Screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. De Souza concocted an efficient, tightly written script that is not only heavy on thrilling action sequences, but character development as well.

Bruce Willis’ turn as John McClane is nothing short of iconic. Hardly a conventional action hero, McClane doesn’t don designer clothing, drink vodka martinis or know martial arts. He is very much an average Joe with an unremarkable reputation and a deteriorating marriage, who unwittingly walks into a bad situation. Unlike James Bond, McClane is constantly forced to improvise and rely on his wits to survive. Willis’ one-liners are humorous, but feel genuine, as does McClane’s terror when he repeatedly comes within an inch of his life. Willis succeeds at making McClane a down-to-earth, flawed, but likeable guy with whom we can easily empathize, as we truly wonder if he can survive his predicament.

Which brings us to Alan Rickman’s equally iconic role in this explosive picture. Not many actors can say they’ve debuted on the silver screen as one of cinema’s most iconic villains, but that’s exactly what Rickman did as Hans Gruber! Cultured and well groomed, Hans is anything but a cliché, seedy villain. Instead we have an intelligent heavy who carries out his heist like a chess game, seemingly anticipating every possible move from opponents. Hans also possesses a smooth demeanor, masking a pretentious and sociopathic personality. Gruber may be helming a heist, but he’s unafraid to use his terrorism background to murder dozens in the process. Rickman and Willis play very well off of each other, from when the two first communicate via radio to their first memorable face-to-face encounter. Hans is a master planner, or so his overconfidence leads him to believe. Rickman does an amazing job of balancing an already well-written character with the right amount of humor and seriousness. Additionally, the film sports a large supporting cast of characters but never once feels overcrowded. Alexander Godunov, William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson, Hart Bochner and Paul Gleeson, all have something to do in this iconic pleaser. As all of today’s formulaic siege flicks drop all around you, try cleansing your palette with the one that started it all, Die Hard!

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