Christmas movie review: Die Hard

5 December 2011

Written by: Matthew Smith

Miracle on 34th Street? I don’t think so. The Santa Clause? Oh no. It’s just not my kind of Christmas movie unless Alan Rickman is being a jerk.

Bruce Willis might be a wisecrackin’, badass good guy, but it’s the smooth-talking, suit-wearing Alan Rickman who steals the Die Hard show and jingles my bells.

If you disagree, I dare you to watch this film and not feel the magic of Christmas while under the spell of Mr. Gruber’s delicious vowels.

Die Hard is, in my eyes, the ultimate family Christmas movie.

For starters, it’s set on Christmas Eve. Secondly, it has several cheerful Christmas must-haves: German terrorists, a New York cop with an American handle on violence, lots of explosions and some cute kids who don’t say much.

Die Hard is the Christmas-lover’s cheerful reminder of happier times; remember flying before September 11? They were the days when hard-ass cops like John McClane (Willis) could take his gun on the plane, reluctantly heading to California to see his estranged wife and cutesy-pie kids. Clearly, McClane didn’t get the memo about all New York cops being banned from interstate travel due to the chance of an action movie.

But, to the point. On Christmas Eve, John McClane arrives in California and heads to his wife’s office in Nakatomi Plaza, a giant building with plenty of back alleys and tricky-looking wiring. There are businesspeople there having a Christmas party rather than spending time with their families, but that’s boring. German Hans Gruber (Rickman) and his evil entourage inject some Christmas cheer by taking hostages and seizing control of the building, intending to rob the vault in the basement of the beast.

A melting pot cache of supporting characters — wife, limo driver, hostages and terrorists — provides a Christmas choir of comedy, violence and family values as McClane and Gruber fight to one of the most instantly recognisable death scenes in recent action-movie memory. If you haven’t seen it already, that’s pretty much it for the plot.

But rue those who think Die Hard isn’t educational, deliciously ironic, or a dedicated Night Before Christmas/A Christmas Carol-type love-in. On the educational front, it’s a beginner’s guide to understanding chronology. You can pinpoint what stage in the movie you’re at purely by how black McClane’s shirt is.

Die Hard also raises several important existentialist questions: are you automatically evil if you’re a man with long blonde hair and a machine gun? Are all limousine drivers stupid? Are there any catchphrases in this movie Mum will let me get away with?

And for a Christmas twist, we are reminded that people who desire lots of money are generally the people Bruce Willis will shoot, blow up, or toss off a building. So, don’t be one of those guys.

The best thing about Die Hard is that the since-it’s-Christmas undercurrent prevents it from taking itself too seriously. This film knows perfectly well that its premise is ridiculous. For one, you’ve got Alan Rickman, shacking up with crazy Albino German terrorists in ridiculously tight pants.

Then there’s the skyscraper full of nice, innocent businesspeople, as well as the most ludicrous idea of all: select scenes in which Bruce Willis tries to act all emotional. On Christmas Eve. Director John McTiernan must have just laughed, cracked a beer and stuffed more dynamite into the stunt explosions.

Die Hard is certainly something iconic with Bruce Willis as star good guy. But without the deliriously Machiavellian evilness of Alan Rickman, swanning around with his debonair, clipped accent and ruthless cynicism, we’ve got nothing to absorb all the American macho wankery. To temper Willis’ overdone masculinity, we have Rickman as our Christmas gift, a slightly effeminate foil to Willis and hence, the man 1980’s America would have loved to hate.

Die Hard has been one of American’s most treasured Christmas gifts — a festive cacophony of expletives and explosions.

Siobhan Argent is studying A Masters of Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. You can read more of her work at Review Mania and follow her on twitter: @siobhanargent.

upstart will be reviewing Christmas movies in December 2011. Full details for contributing and a list of Christmas movie reviews are on this page.