CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Die Hard (1988)

Roderick Thorp wrote the book Nothing Lasts Forever in the hopes that it could be made into a film. Seeing as how Frank Sinatra had just starred in the adaption of Thorp’s The Detective and this story would be a sequel, it seemed like a sure bet. But then the film went into development and it would be nine years before his film hit the screen.

The final film — Die Hard — features action sequences taken almost word for word from the book. Where it differs is by making its hero younger, changing his name from Joe Leland to John McClane and putting his wife, not his daughter, in danger.

Sinatra had first right of refusal to make the film, but once he stepped down, Die Hard was offered to Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Charles Bronson, Robert Deniro, Richard Dean Anderson, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Kurt Russell, Dennis Quaid, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Michael Keaton, Patrick Swayze, Bill Paxton, Mickey Rourke and Clint Eastwood. Whew. It seems all of Hollywood was offered the film. Yet all of these casting choices seem ridiculous today because only one man could star in this film: Bruce Willis. But at the time, he was an unproven and virtually unknown actor.

Do I really have to explain the plot to you, dear reader? It’s simple: McClane is a man out of place, a New York cop at a fancy Christmas party trying to reconnect with his estranged wife when terrorists take over. The set-up in incredibly simple, but the resourcefulness of our hero — and the charisma of a young, hungry Willis — take this film from the ordinary to the classic. Throw in a classic villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber and you have a movie worth watching and rewatching.

There’s been some debate as to whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Of course it is. It symbolizes the worry behind every holiday party, of trying to repair broken relations during the most wonderful time of the year. The awkwardness of attending your spouse’s Christmas party? Die Hard may get unrealistic later, but in the way that it translates McClane’s feelings of not belonging in Nakatomi Plaza, Die Hard strikes me as bracingly honest. The holidays are a rough place for a cop whose only real relationship is the one he has with his job. And throughout the terrorist-filled night, he hopes to use his wits to survive, save the wife he realizes he has lost and give the Vreski family the worst Christmas ever.

Die Hard also has the distinction of staring two character actors who excel at playing what can only be described as real dicks: Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters). Their IMDB pages are rich with roles that make you want to punch them in the belly.

From how Hans Gruber is treated as one of the stars of the film to its idea of one man against overwhelming odds, Die Hard has influenced every action movie that followed it. But is it a Christmas movie? Well, we don’t have ornaments on our tree from any other film!

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