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"There was a barber and his wife...and she was beautiful..."
Tim Burton is unquestionably one of my favourite directors, if not my absolute favourite director. It's a fact that no matter what the film or the subject matter, I will view a film helmed by Tim Burton (at the time of writing this review, I have seen all of Burton's work and own all his films). The partnership of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp will forever be a movie occasion to treasure, be it Ed Wood or Edward Scissorhands among an enormous number of others. It was the end of 2006 when Dreamworks fast-tracked Burton's latest collaboration with Johnny Depp...and I initially discovered Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The plan was to transform the lucrative Broadway musical into the world of live action cinema. The best part is that Burton promised a full-on musical to maintain a sense of fidelity to Steven Sondheim's brilliant Broadway production. Before the announcement of Burton's cinematic version of the musical, I hadn't possessed any prior knowledge of the source material. I had no idea what the film was about until my interest suddenly flared and research followed.
If you're familiar with the Broadway musical, you'll be aware of the dark humour and gothic style that is such a prominent feature. Sweeney Todd is a story intended for Tim Burton. The director possesses a distinctive superiority when it comes to the macabre and gothic tones. With the completion of creepy period films such as the wondrous Sleepy Hollow, director Burton demonstrated a special ability to deliver dark humour and elegant visuals. Burton is a director who can bring flawed and unusual characters to life. He is the master of darkness and has adapted a penchant for tossing a little blood around his sets in an exaggerated, albeit entertaining manner. Since the beginning of his career, stunning gothic visuals and extravagant production design has been his forte. Sweeney Todd is a film regarding a central character who is a sorrowful, vengeful and formerly caring individual. This character finds redemption for crimes against him and his family by slashing the throats of the innocents of London while hoping to one day slash the throat of the man who stole his wife and daughter from him. What better plot and central character could possibly be better suited for Tim Burton to bring to life?
2007 was a year that beared the release of several great films, but the year also saw its fair share of bad films (in my opinion, there were more bad films than good films throughout the year). Tim Burton's cinematic vision of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a masterpiece of epic proportions, and ultimately ended up being the best film of 2007 without question or debate. After mentioning so much about Burton's brilliant work, I must admit I was a little worried because Burton's last movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was disappointing to say the least. With this film, however, Burton patches up the scars. Like I previously mentioned, I didn't know much about the source material before walking into the cinema and had no idea that this film was going to be so good. Within the first few seconds of the titles commencing, I was completely enthralled in Burton's universe.
The film is so poetic, stylish, beautiful and so incredibly emotional at times as well. Every shot has been conceived beautifully, and every line delivered remarkably. This is a musical of course, so naturally the songs being interesting is a vitality. All the songs are utterly stunning and are crafted beautifully. Combine the witty lyrics of Steven Sondheim with the musical stylings of a successful Hollywood composer...suddenly things are looking interesting. The songs are both memorable and remarkable. I purchased the soundtrack CD immediately and now it's my default channel.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the story of a man named Benjamin Barker (Depp) who once had everything; a wife, a child and a successful career as a barber. For Barker, life could not be better. But a false conviction of a crime he did not commit destroys his happiness and his life, causing him to suffer through a massive, heart-breaking emotional trauma. Upon Barker's London homecoming by boat 15 years later to right the wrongs against him, he comes home to nothing. His family has been ripped apart. He forms an unlikely partnership with Mrs. Lovett (Carter), a creepy old woman who owns a pie shop. Benjamin Barker, who now goes by the name of Sweeney Todd, wants revenge on crooked Judge Turpin (Rickman) who convicted him out of sheer jealously. Sweeney re-opens a barber shop on Fleet Street, with the intention of getting sweet revenge on Turpin if he comes in for a shave. Sweeney uses his sharp silver blades to slash the throats of the innocent London public that come in for a shave, before destroying the evidence of his crimes by allowing the troubled Mrs. Lovett to cook the human corpses into her pies.
From start to finish, I was completely hooked. I literally couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen. Its combination of a superb cast, excellent music, exquisite production design and gorgeous cinematography creates a flawless movie. I remember goose-bumps literally covering my body as soon as the music commenced at the start of the opening credits...the outstanding organ music that successfully creates the desired atmosphere and tone for what is about to come.
Burton's unique colour scheme depicts the grimy streets of London with extremely drained colour that predominantly makes use of grey a black among other dark colours. The sky is always dark, with never a ray of bright sunshine poking through. This is the depressing, gothic mood that the director aimed to achieve. During the flashbacks that depict the events of the past, the colour scheme has been changed to show an array of bright colours as the sun lights the cheery streets. This symbolises Barker's emotions, so to speak. When Barker is happy with his life the colours are bright and joyous. Then when he returns to London and the life he once lived has been destroyed...his depression is reflected in the gloomy visuals.
Johnny Depp, playing the demon barber, is absolutely remarkable. Before this film Depp had never displayed his singing abilities on film. Before he was an actor he played guitar in a band with never an attempt to handle any vocals. If it weren't for his close friend Tim Burton asking him to consider a singing role, he would have gone through his whole career without singing a note. Thankfully, Depp's former career in the music industry allowed him to sing a brilliant tune. Before the film's release, Depp singing was a big question mark. As the film was not marketed as a musical from the previews, we were therefore never given the opportunity to witness the actor handling a song. When I first viewed the film in the cinema (on opening day) I sat in complete awe at the beauty of Johnny Depp's breathtaking singing. The actor was recognised with a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (I still believe he wholly deserved to win). Helena Bonham Carter was the only member of the cast I was reluctant about, but my fears were soon alleviated by her stunning acting skills. She is able to carry on a brilliant duet with co-star Depp. Her singing is amazing. Alan Rickman is brilliant here, as are the rest of the supporting cast. This includes Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen (whose singing is quite incredible), Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener and Ed Sanders. Every member of the cast can sing to perfection.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a brilliant mix of dark humour, horror, romance, drama and tragedy. The ending is very sad, but very poetic at the same time. As the credits start to roll (with every screening I watch) I am a complete mess. Usually tears are escaping my eyes...I'm left speechless and stunned. The film is very violent, and when the exaggerated bloodshed begins it is very relentless and there is no stopping it. With Burton's direction the violence is very stylish and extraordinarily beautiful. Of course Burton's direction is the icing on the cake here. The man is a visionary and a wizard of filmmaking. His films are simply close to unbeatable. I am not a fan of the musical genre (interestingly enough, neither is Burton); however a musical of this superiority is a rare event. With each new screening I am always captivated.
Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a modern masterpiece. It's an acquired taste and will not be liked by all of course, so you're welcome to disagree. Every aspect of the filmmaking is absolutely stunning. Without argument or question, this is the best movie of 2007. Since first watching this film, I cannot prevent myself from indulging in repeated screenings. To date, this is Burton's finest hour. Winner of 2 Golden Globes including Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actor (for Johnny Depp).
How does one distinguish the difference between a masterpiece and just another ordinary comedy? For starters, an ordinary comedy is commonly clichéd beyond all comprehension - i.e. characters are standard, events are glaringly foreseeable and the structure is far too formulaic. In addition, an ordinary comedy usually features well-known actors who are so desperate for laughs that they overact (like Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, and so on) rather than dispersing clever, witty, cerebral dialogue. In an ordinary comedy the laughs are also predominantly forgettable. And finally, an ordinary comedy is funny but nothing further. It doesn't break new boundaries...it's just another comedy that'll be long forgotten and relegated to the $5 bargain bin at your local shops. But when we're talking about Hollywood movie studios, the executives just want a quick buck to raise their annual profits. Ordinary comedies are easy to make, cheap, and quality is never the concern. Genuine masterpieces of the comedy genre are close to non-existent. Only John Cleese of the Monty Python fame could've been capable of developing the perfect comedy...and he succeeds!
A Fish Called Wanda ticks all the boxes to pull it out of the "ordinary comedy" territory. The film isn't clichéd at all; characters are extraordinarily well-written, the film isn't predictable, and the structure is original. The script is peppered with dynamite dialogue, in-jokes and memorable lines (that I continually quote almost daily) as it moves from one hilarious, creative scenario to the one succeeding it. It even breaks new boundaries with its prize-winning combination of laughs and creativity. It's purely one of the most entertaining films of all time! Best of all, despite countless viewing it always seems fresh and never fails to entertain me. And I'm not alone in my sentiments. The film pulled in $60 million in the USA, making it the highest grossing British picture in America at that time. All these ingredients ensure that A Fish Called Wanda is anything but ordinary.
On the surface, it probably seems difficult to imagine this film being even considered funny. After all, this is a flick concerning diamond robbers double and triple crossing each other, not to mention it's also somewhat mean-spirited at times and cruel to animals. But by golly the package works! The result will bring tears of laughter to your eyes and side-splitting pains to your stomach as you roll all over the floor laughing uncontrollably.
A Fish Called Wanda is reminiscent of the days of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. This is Cleese in his element: finding himself in awkward situations and having to worm his way out of them. If you're a fan of Fawlty Towers (or is it Flowery Twats or Flay Otters or Watery Fowls?), like I am, you'll have a good grasp of the laugh-out-loud comedy I'm referring to. Considering John Cleese's mostly awful recent work, it's terrific to revisit those winners he scored back in his glory days. Seriously, not many comedies get nominated for Oscars! Let alone a comedy of British origins up for Oscar noms, ultimately walking away with one win. If you want the short version, here it is: if you haven't yet seen A Fish Called Wanda then you're missing out and should immediately visit your local shop to secure a copy.
A Fish Called Wanda is a simple tail...erm, tale about betrayal, love, lust, greed and seafood. Wanda (Curtis) and Otto (Kline) are a duo of American thieves who visit Britain to pull off a diamond heist. They team up with George (Georgeson) and the animal-loving Ken (Palin) to commit an armed robbery, walking away with a loot worth $20 million US. Trouble is...Wanda and Otto are lovers posing as brother and sister who plan to double-cross their collaborators, taking off with the loot themselves. But it also seems George and Ken are mistrusting of Wanda and Otto (despite George and Wanda commencing a relationship, which Wanda faked of course). George double-crosses Wanda and Otto by secretly moving the loot before Wanda and Otto have the opportunity to finalise their double-crossing of George! Anyway, George is dobbed into the police and is arrested. When Wanda and Otto realise they'll need to figure out the new location of the loot, a somewhat complex plan to find it becomes necessitous. This involves Wanda inveigling her way into the life of jaded Etonian Archie Leach (Cleese), George's barrister. However...what begins as a simple spot of using somebody to further her own means becomes more complicated as Wanda's attraction to this somewhat repressed and cute ("in a pompous sort of way") barrister grows. Oh, and then there's Ken's little project to dispose of the only witness to their diamond heist. Utter anarchic hilarity ensues.
The plotline is fun to be sure, but it's the characters that are at the heart of the film. The central appeal is the characters' faults and peculiarities - George is your typical evil mastermind, Wanda will sleep with anybody if the occasion calls for it, Ken prefers animals to humans, and Archie is a snobbish and repressed Englishman hen-pecked by wife (Aitken) and daughter (Cynthia Cleese, who's John's real-life daughter). Then there's Otto. He's...well...Otto. Kevin Kline plays the malicious and cruel but incompetent Otto with such wild abandon.
John Cleese is in his element as writer and an actor for the film. In addition to conceiving such rich characterisations and providing a tradition Cleese-esque performance, he also sprinkles the film with the kind of devilish humour he's revered for. His character of Archie Leach is a variation of Basil Fawlty from his popular TV series. He's a stiff-upper-lipped English barrister not above a little avarice and hanky panky. Cleese said he chose the name Archie Leach because it's Cary Grant's real name, and this was about as close as he'd ever get to being Cary Grant in a film. However, the film doesn't rely solely on John Cleese for the laughs as the rest of the actors are total knockouts.
Kevin Kline won an Oscar for his eccentric performance as Otto: an ex-CIA operative who reads the philosophies of Nietzche to make him look smart. But in reality he's so stupid! ("Don't call me stupid") He thinks Aristotle was Belgian, the central message of Buddhism is every man for himself, and that the London underground is a political movement. When Wanda calls him an ape, Otto replies with "Apes don't read philosophy". "Yes, they do, Otto," Wanda then replies. "They just don't understand it."
Otto's character is so well-written that there's always something new to pick up on. Kline never strikes an incorrect note, and definitely deserved the Oscar he received.
Playing Wanda, Jamie Lee Curtis is an absolute delight. She's as smart as she is sexy. From the deadly serious Halloween to a light-hearted comedy...Jamie Lee Curtis demonstrates her talents as a versatile performer. She even does a fine job of making Wanda curiously nefarious but intriguingly beguiling at the same time - when she's not snogging everyone that moves, that is.
Then there's Michael Palin (from the golden days of Monty Python) as the hapless K-K-K-K-Ken. He spends most of his time stuttering hopelessly (this is absolutely side-splitting at times) or tending to his animals. Kevin Kline is given a batch of hilarious lines in relation to Ken's stutter: "Are you thinking, Ken? Or are you in mid-stutter?", "...those phoney accents! Not you Ken, you've got a beautiful speaking voice...when it works" and so on. In Ken's assignment to kill a witness before George's trial commences, he instead accidentally targets the old woman's dogs in gruesome ways. This is all the more ironic because Ken is such an animal lover who wouldn't hurt a fly. Seeing him at each funeral for the dogs is just hilarious.
For Tom Georgeson's character, Cleese decided to do a clever name switch...calling the character George Thomason.
Despite its runaway success, A Fish Called Wanda wasn't all good news from the start. It was helmed by a director who hadn't worked for 25 years, it featured a male actor on the wrong side of 40, and it also featured a sexy female with a great body who refused to do any nudity. But those that gave the film a chance walked away raving. It established a template for the future of British comedy exports. Even Richard Curtis was taking notes at this time. The film walked away with a basket of awards. In order to reach such perfection, the script went through 13 drafts. Director Charlie Crichton and John Cleese got together three times a month for two-and-a-half years to give the script touch-ups.
When production finally started, they managed to wrap up filming in a mere four weeks. Crichton's economic direction meant not a day was wasted. This also gave the film its glorious fast pace. Before you realise it, the film is over and you're howling for more. Thankfully, though, none of the gags have dated and they seem fresh even after constant viewings. The snappy dialogue, the subtle images...even John Cleese's striptease are wonderful no matter how many times you watch the film. And finally, the film was given its definitive touch in post-production: the music. John Du Prez's music is catchy and atmospheric, and you'll be humming the theme for weeks.
Mixing Python-esque humour with a sweet touch of rom-com, A Fish Called Wanda is the greatest hour for any former Python. Originally known as the working title of A Wish Called Fonda, Cleese then reworked his original ideas and the result was this masterpiece of cinematic comedy. It even has a universal appeal, with characters being featured of different nationalities. This film is totally faultless. It's a solid movie that holds up surprisingly well after a number of decades. If the words uproarious, hilarious, or side-splitting mean anything to you, this is your film for sure! It improves with each new screening as a matter of fact.
This film doesn't rely on swearing for its laughs, nor does it rely on overacting either. It relies on its clever script and an impeccable bunch of actors instead. The same crew tried again about a decade later with Fierce Creature. A good attempt, but it wasn't the same. A Fish Called Wanda is one of a kind...and that kind is very, very funny and just plain FUN! Fans of John Cleese or Kevin Kline will not be disappointed. Come on, how can you resist the prospect of seeing Michael Palin running over Kevin Kline with a steamroller after Kline eats Palin's tropic fish?!
"Wanda, do you have any idea what it's like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone "Are you married?" and hearing "My wife left me this morning," or saying, uh, "Do you have children?" and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see, Wanda, we'll all terrified of embarrassment. That's why we're so... dead. Most of my friends are dead, you know, we have these piles of corpses to dinner."
"It takes a certain kind of person to do what I do. No-one's ever impressed; no-one's ever fascinated. If you're a fireman, all the kids will want to jump on the back of the truck and follow you to a fire. There's going to be no kids willing to do that with me. So, I don't do it to impress people - it's a job, it's my trade, and I actually think I'm pretty good at it."
There is one undeniable, inescapable bona fide fact regarding humans that we rarely like to discuss or even mention: everybody poos. Generally speaking, mainstream movies exercise this fact for brainless comedy. Modern comedies usually toss in a fart gag or a diarrhoeic outburst in a desperate attempt for a laugh. From such scenes in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or Dumb and Dumber, to dramatic shit smearing in North Country...even to German hack director Uwe Boll whose films are pure cinematic semi-liquid nuggets of week-old vindaloo proportions.
Kenny serves a potent yet valuable reminder regarding everybody's need to poo. At first it most likely seems like a daft single-joke comedy overflowing with scatological humour. During its marketing campaign and preliminary hype, there wasn't much to convince anyone otherwise. But Kenny is something radically different. This is a hysterical, enormously entertaining mockumentary featuring an impeccable blend of humour, pathos and heart-warming moments. It delivers a poignant and effective snapshot of a forgotten cog in society who's frowned upon due to the nature of his trade. The character of Kenny (played by little-known actor Shane Jacobson, who won an AFI award for his performance) is commonly alienated from family and friends due to his job. But with this mockumentary we're reminded that he performs an essential public service: if the "Kennys" of the world didn't exist, where would we take a dump at a big festival? It's a trade no-one wants to think about, yet someone needs to do it.
The Jacobson brothers themselves were sceptical as to whether this concept would actually work as a film. Kenny was originally a short that debuted at a major Aussie film festival. Astonishingly, the audience reaction was enormously positive. Due to massive demand, Splashdown (the toilet company which the character of Kenny works for) persuaded the Jacobson brothers to develop the concept into a feature-length movie...and Kenny was eventually born.
Kenny Smyth is a typical Everyman trying to make a living. He works at a Corporate Bathroom Rental company known as Splashdown. Kenny is a knight in shining overalls, taking care of business with his faithful Splashdown crew by his side. The film follows Kenny as he tackles all troubles great and small...from the biggest festival to smallest social gatherings; Kenny confronts every septic challenge that comes his way. He also battles his way through personal problems, dealing with his bitter divorce during which he lost custody of son Jesse (played by Shane Jacobson's real-life son), and he also must tend to the blossoming romance between himself and an airline hostess (Bibra). Every challenge in Kenny's life he faces with charm, humour and unflinching dignity.
"I'd love to be able to say "I plumb toilets" and have someone say "Now that is something I've always wanted to do"."
Kenny lifts the lid on the very real issues in contemporary society. No-one is ever impressed or fascinated with what Kenny does. Kenny even expounds on the glories of his craft. It isn't as glamorous as being a fireman but it's also more secure than a desk job. ("It's not like my business is ever going to dry up overnight!") In addition, he's treated badly by the members of the general public he's forced to interact with. Barely anyone will shake his hand, his own father (played by Shane and director Clayton Jacobson's actual father) orders him to remove his work overalls before sitting down, and people shun him at social gatherings. When Kenny's son assists in cleaning the port-a-loos, members of the public complain indignantly and inquire "What kind of diseases could he get?". This film presents us with disillusionments and misunderstandings in relation to Kenny's trade. For its brutal honesty and realism, the filmmakers deserve to be lauded.
Director Clayton Jacobson (who gets a very small role as well) lensed the movie using suitable digital photography. It feels like a home movie at times, which is the desired effect. Lots of people (myself included) were under the false impression that Kenny was a real person, and that the events were real. Make no mistake: 95% of the film is staged and rehearsed, with the fantastic naturalistic acting generating the ingenious illusion that we're watching genuine documentary footage. The cinematography is extremely accomplished with its fly-on-the-wall style.
"There's another classic example of someone having a two inch arsehole and us having installed only one inch piping."
Shane Jacobson earned an AFI award for Best Actor. His acting can only be described as faultless. In real life, Shane doesn't have a lisp. I, like many others, was under the impression that the lisp was genuine. This is a testament to the masterclass of acting offered by Jacobson. Kenny Smyth is the best Aussie character to hit screens since Michael Caton's Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle and Paul Hogan's Mick Dundee in Crocodile Dundee. He presents the essential Australian: simple, hard-working and looking forward to having a beer at the end of the day. Kenny's naivety is emphasised by his family's simplicity. He's the first person in his family to fly out of Australia, and he's utterly curious about the workings of an aeroplane. When he arrives at Nashville, Tennessee in America for the International Plumper and Cleaner Expo - i.e. "Poo HQ" as Kenny affectionately calls it - he's bewildered by the size of the expo. Kenny is also your typical Aussie using ockerisms and slang that may appear pretty peculiar to an international audience. His similes are particularly amusing. "Sillier than a bum full of smarties", "Mad as a clown's cock", and so on. Kenny is irresistible and charming, humorous and kind-natured. He's part philosopher, part comedian and all heart. Shane Jacobson gives the film the gusto and momentum it needs.
The other actors deserve a brief mention. It was a family and friend affair, with Shane Jacobson's real father playing Kenny Smyth's father, and Shane's real son played Kenny's son. Ronald Jacobson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the AFI awards. He's brilliant, witty and quotable.
The Jacobson brothers may have built the film's premise around toilets and poo, yet a brown log is never actually shown at all throughout the entire film. They never cross the line...the "mud biscuits and apple juice" are merely referenced instead of being shown. The humour of the film is in Kenny's delightful matter-of-factness in his observations. He cleverly describes his trade and things going on around him...and it's hilarious. Better yet, it's all done with a straight face. At the beginning of the film Kenny is interviewing a potential client via phone. As he asks whether this client will be serving food or drink at the event, the implications of his questions are hilarious. "Are there any Indonesian foods or curries?" The opening 30 minutes are probably the strongest part of the movie. We are offered a very intimate insight into the life of Kenny Smyth. Kenny is developed as a three-dimensional human, and in his personality fragments we see ourselves. From start to finish, it's a mosaic of hilarious and quotable lines with an adequate dosage of pathos and heart. The concoction works incredibly effectively!
"There's a smell in here that is gonna outlast religion."
When all's said and done, Kenny simply reminds everyone that in the age of big-budget adventures and CGI spectacles, engaging characters and a good story are all that matter. Kenny has both. This is a little-known film that scored big at the box office. It remained in cinemas for roughly a year. Even after the DVD was released, selected Australian cinemas were still showing it. As a character study so singularly focused on its central character, a film like this relies on its central character for its success. Shane Jacobson delivers a delightful performance. Kenny is a man with good intentions, and this comes across very powerfully. Shane has impeccable comedic timing as he deadpans a series of hilarious lines in expert fashion. Aside from being consistently laugh-out-loud funny, the terrific script generates real affection for Kenny in order that we desperately root for him to succeed. The character makes several valid observations about family, work and the value of human dignity.
Kenny is a masterpiece for its expert amalgamation of great comedy, pathos and terrific touching moments. This is a hysterical movie that holds up admirably no matter how many times you watch it. I still laugh at every joke after 50 viewings. It's a very entertaining movie, and I absolutely love it. At first I had no interest in seeing this picture. But on a firm recommendation I attended a screening (which required a lot of searching to determine which local cinemas were showing it), and it was the best cinematic experience in my entire life. It was a full house, and every single person in the cinema was crying with laughter. It was the most entertaining two hours of my entire life, and now I constantly revisit the movie. This is the greatest mockumentary in history! Yes, it's better than This is Spinal Tap!!
Followed by a spin-off TV series entitled Kenny's World.
Die Hard is considered to be the seminal action movie of the 1980s. Produced in 1988, this is the archetypal blueprint for the contemporary action thriller. It has been decades since this crackling action flick first hit cinemas in summer 1988, yet in the 21st century its influence on the action genre is still overwhelming. Die Hard is the smart-mouthed, high-rise thriller which launched Bruce Willis as an action icon. To this day, the world's greatest action hero (in my opinion) is Willis' John McClane. Willis portraying the New York Cop was a career-defining turn: he mixed comical repartee, action heroics and a grubby white vest to astonishing effect. Die Hard also vastly reinvented the action film formula. It introduced a hero that bleeds when shot, panics when people he's trying to protect are endangered, and conveys uncertainties about his ability to survive. McClane is a vulnerable Everyman as opposed to an unstoppable machine. Instead of dispersing bullets non-stop and regularly raising the body count, this hero prefers to employ his brain more frequently as an alternative. McClane was the lone Western hero transposed to a setting subjugated by skyscrapers rather than rock formations.
On top of this, Die Hard proved that action films could be genuinely original and break new boundaries whilst still awarding a mainstream audience the entertaining action they desired. By contemporary standards, the action in the film superficially emerges as fairly tame. Most films of late, such as The Matrix, depict over-the-top martial arts in irritating slow motion. The fight scenes in Die Hard are far more cramped and sweaty; saturated with a higher level of realism and brutality. These fights depict the way real men would do battle: with hard-hitting punches, struggles and a constant inkling of vulnerability.
The plot is as simple as it is involving. As the film opens, it's Christmas Eve and we are introduced to Officer John McClane (Willis): he's a New York City cop disembarking from a plane to Los Angeles. McClane's business in LA is to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bedelia) who had moved there several months beforehand with their children. Holly is in attendance at a Christmas function hosted in a high-rise LA skyscraper owned by the successful Nakatomi Corporation. Unfortunately for John McClane, the Christmas party is abruptly interrupted when a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Rickman) seize control of the building and hold the guests hostage. McClane is, however, fortunate enough to be in a separate room when the terrorists make their presence known, therefore able to slip away. This consequently inaugurates an excruciating few hours as McClane works to evade the terrorists while also working to conquer them from the inside.
The film embodies all the customary action movie stereotypes: the hero, the nefarious bad guys, the trademark black guy (VelJohnson), the self-absorbed yet incredibly stupid police chief (Gleason), the despondently brainless federal agents (Bush and Davi) and the ex-wife who's still in love with the hero. However, all is fine as Die Hard spawned the majority of these clichés.
For an action movie made in 1988, the special effects (which secured an Oscar nomination) are still utterly mind-blowing. These special effects are still as effective today as their digital equivalent. The high level of practicality in these special effects is extraordinary, and they supply a valuable reminder about the dying art that's being rapidly replaced by CGI technology.
Prior to John McTiernan helming this 1988 masterpiece, he was only recognised for Predator and Nomads. I immensely adore Predator, however McTiernan's supreme cinematic creation will forever be the classic action romp known as Die Hard. The sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming, and we feel more riveted as the tension steadily increases with each passing second. His demolition-heavy vision - astoundingly captured with cinematographer Jan de Bont's lens - guarantees that the film is pure awesome mayhem...ensuring that it's fun no matter how many times one has watched it.
Die Hard also never conforms to the mediocre quality of a pure action fest. That said, there's still a decent dosage of gun battles, explosions and violent shootings. Decades on, and the gunshot wounds are still hard-hitting. Kneecaps being shredded by bullets, glass jammed into bare feet, bloody executions and fierce close combat are among the highlights. Like I said before, the violence probably appears quite tame when compared to contemporary action films, but it's stylish and used realistically. Despite all this action and violence, much of the 130-minute running time is dedicated to establishing the story and developing the fantastic characters. The script is impeccable. There's a great assortment of enjoyable scenarios punctuated with smart and fascinating dialogue. Die Hard also has the advantage of being largely unpredictable. We expect the hero to prevail, but there's a lack of sentimentality towards the characters, hence lending a hint of uncertainty.
The sound effects (which also earned an Oscar nomination) are ear-shattering and realistic. There are booming gunshots, brutal punches and deafening explosions. It'd be difficult to top even by today's standards. The film editing cannot be faulted either. The work of editors John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste holds up under close scrutiny. The directing/editing collaboration is terrific, resulting in minimal continuity issues. The remarkable definitive touch was eventually applied during the post-production period: Michael Kamen's score. There is no distinct Die Hard theme, yet there are countless segments of exciting, pulse-pounding music exclusive to the series. Kamen's musical composition for the film is perfect by action film standards. The intensity gradually elevates thanks to the amazing music. The film's key action sequences are even better with the inclusion of Kamen's efforts. The work behind the scenes is simply terrific!
Director McTiernan also ensured that no faulty performances would slip under the radar. As a result, the entire cast is amazing. Bruce Willis as John McClane cannot be faulted. The smart screenwriting provides Willis with a host of wisecracks and one-liners that are legendary, memorable and quotable. Willis also displays great versatility as an emotional side is expressed towards the climax. As he doubts he will survive the situation, McClane breaks down and lends a hint of vulnerability. The same cannot be said for Stallone, Van Damme, Chuck Norris or any other 80s action genre luminary. Prior to Die Hard, Bruce Willis was primarily known only for starring in the television show Moonlighting and the Blake Edwards comedy Blind Date. For the initial theatrical Die Hard posters, Bruce Willis' unfamiliar likeness wasn't featured because it was feared that this could be a major turn-off for cinemagoers. In hindsight, naturally, there is no doubt that the perennially smirking Willis contributed mightily to the film's enormous success as he traded blows and quips with equal assurance.
John McClane is essentially a Western hero like John Wayne or Roy Rogers. This similarity is referenced on several occasions. When McClane provides an alias, he asks to be called Roy. Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber even talks to McClane at one stage, and asks: "Who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?" To which McClane retorts with "I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually". At the climax Gruber then says "Still the cowboy, Mr. McClane? Americans, all alike. Well this time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly". "That's Gary Cooper, asshole" is McClane's response.
Alan Rickman surpasses perfection as the terrorist leader Hans Gruber. Die Hard already had the pleasure of featuring the greatest action hero of all time, but the film also boasts Rickman as the greatest action villain in cinematic history. Rickman's Hans Gruber is polite, witty and sinister. His character is well-written, and Rickman was the perfect man for the job.
But the screenwriter also develops a surplus of other characters as warm as toast. Reginald VelJohnson is highly likeable as the policeman inadvertently pulled into the situation. VelJohnson magnificently bounces off Willis' terrific dialogue. Although VelJohnson and Willis predominantly exchange dialogue via radio, their chemistry is solid.
Then there's Bonnie Bedelia as McClane's estranged wife. Bedelia develops a feisty character not afraid to make snappy remarks - even if a gun is pointed at her.
De'voreaux White contributes yet another terrific character. He provides comic relief and an easily likeable screen persona. I could keep going, but needless to say the supporting cast are devoid of flaws.
At the time of writing this review, Die Hard is two decades old. Even after those 20 years the film is a phenomenal action thrill ride of extraordinary proportions. It offers believable characters, staggering special effects, satisfyingly brutal action, as well as non-stop adventure and tension. Its success at the box office prompted studios to begin green-lighting a slew of knock-offs featuring other 80s action heroes: Die Hard on a ship (Under Siege with Steven Seagal), Die Hard in a sports stadium (Sudden Death with Jean-Claude Van Damme), Die Hard on a train (Under Siege II: Dark Territory with Seagal) and even Die Hard on a bloody big snowy mountain (Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone). All these younger siblings of this classic action film follow the same formula of the protagonist finding themself inadvertently entangled in a dangerous situation, and their daring-do is required. This is a testament to how brilliant, engrossing and influential this action masterpiece truly is. Furthermore, I've seen the film at least 60 times in the last few years (including a customary viewing on every Christmas Eve)...and I already want to watch it again. Films like these are simply too few and far between these days.
If you're a self-respecting action fan, Die Hard cannot be missed. If you enjoy watching smart, competent thrillers then this is an essential purchase. Or if you just like being entertained...Die Hard cannot be passed up. I'll be perfectly frank: Die Hard is damn close to being the zenith of filmic perfection. Even a five-star rating isn't sufficient. If this isn't the greatest action film of all time, then it's too close for words. This masterpiece ushered in a new era of action movies, bringing a human quality to the plethora of unbelievable situations in preceding incarnations whereby one man would take on an army himself.
Followed by three sequels, beginning with Die Hard 2: Die Harder.
"I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way... so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life. We can go any way you want it. You can walk out of here or be carried out. But have no illusions. We are in charge. So, decide now, each of you. And please remember: we have left nothing to chance."
"Just once, I'd like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a fuckin' Christmas tree, a little turkey. But, no. I gotta crawl around in this motherfuckin' tin can."
The original Die Hard is an action blockbuster that rapidly became both a critical and commercial success. The prevailing philosophy of Hollywood movie studios is fairly straightforward: if there's an unexpected hit on their back catalogue, they should capitalise on its success by making a sequel. Sequels are an intriguing breed. Very rarely are these follow-ups capable of replicating the quality of its predecessor. These sequels usually adhere to the same formula of its forerunner while additionally retaining a number of the original characters for heightened nostalgia.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder brings back the popular character of John McClane (Willis): his quip-laden, terse style made him an ideal vehicle to be transplanted into just about any situation as long as it included lots of guns, lots of bad guys, and lots of violence. It'd be fair to state that the screenwriters for Die Hard 2 relied on the original far too excessively. The same formula is exercised (as in the main character finding himself in a situation requiring his heroics) and bouts of déjà vu will occur frequently. For instance: it's Christmas Eve again, McClane is forced to crawl through ventilation shafts again (McClane even states his familiarity with the situation), McClane is out to save hostages, his wife is one of these hostages, and the police are as useless as tits on a bull. It may be looked upon as a blatant and unimaginative facsimile of the original Die Hard to some...but, despite the panning this sequel took, it works!
Die Hard 2 is a straightforward, action-packed, thrill-a-minute, violent, extremely entertaining action romp and an endearing return of everyone's favourite action hero. The seminal rule of sequels is that they should be bigger...and everything is bigger. Unfortunately, due to everything being so much bigger, the size of your suspension of disbelief must also be bigger to compensate for it all. Unfortunately, too, this allows slightly less time for characters to flourish and a plot to be developed. This is still an action film, though, so we watch it to see some action of which there is plenty. It may be over-the-top, but it's charming and utterly exhilarating.
To me, Christmas is never complete without at least one screening of Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder back-to-back. They are imbued with the Christmas spirit and provide a very enjoyable evening of entertainment.
Anyway, onto the plot: it's a snowy Christmas Eve, and it's exactly one year following the events that transpired at Nakatomi Plaza. John McClane is waiting at Dulles International Airport in Washington for a plane carrying his wife Holly (Bedelia). Also scheduled for arrival that evening is a drug baron known as General Ramon Esperanza (Nero). Esperanza is being extradited to the United States to face drug charges. As a large snowstorm rages outside, a group of renegade terrorists led by a certain Colonel Stuart (Sadler) attack the airport. They disable all the capabilities of the control tower. Now the terrorists are in command of the landing lights and communication with the planes, essentially holding hostage all the planes endlessly circling above, and all the passengers on-board. Unless the demands of these terrorists are met, the planes will run out of fuel and begin plummeting to the ground. The terrorists are loyal to Esperanza and wish to secure the freedom of the General. Needless to say, McClane steps into the equation with plans to disrupt the intentions of the terrorists. Mayhem is what ensues. Also toss in the arrogant, egotistical TV reporter Richard Thornberg (Atherton), a bumbling airport police chief (Franz), Reginald VelJohnson in a brief cameo, and plenty of baddies for McClane to kill.
Grant: "You're the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time."
John McClane: "Story of my life."
Even at a running time of two hours, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a pulse-pounding action film featuring Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis in spades. Finnish director Renny Harlin was handed the reigns for this sequel. Harlin has had his good days (Cliffhanger) and bad days (Deep Blue Sea). Thankfully, this is one of his better days.
The film must be lauded for its outstanding special effects. Reminiscent of the first film, all the major explosions are done for real. There's green screen and miniatures with very little computer imagery in between. For the planes, the effects are close to unbeatable. Once again, this film serves as a good reminder of the dying art now being replaced in this current digital age. Harlin appears right at home with the action scenes. The director once described this movie as being during his "squib period" when referring to the abundance of blood being spilt when characters are gunned down. At times, though, the action is more pedestrian than stylish. The film also establishes more of a "shoot now, ask questions later" attitude for John McClane. Instead of a warning before pulling the trigger, he disperses bullets without a second of hesitation. With all the action and an extra dollop of gore, director Harlin has taken a literal reading of the subtitle, Die Harder.
Screenwriters Doug Richardson and Steven E. de Souza adequately recapture a number of the strengths of the original film. John McClane is still John McClane. He's tired, pissed off, and is thrown into a situation he doesn't like. While a few of the film's aspects borrow heavily from its predecessor, McClane's wisecracks and witticisms are new material and they're as sharp as a knife. On top of this, his "why me?" attitude remains the same and he spends a lot of his time talking to himself. He's the John McClane we've come to know and love. If you watch a Die Hard sequel, you're obviously looking to see exhilarating action, big explosions, and John McClane doing what he does best. Die Hard 2: Die Harder ticks all these boxes. The villain is one-dimensional, at times it's utterly absurd, plot holes are easier to notice and it's undeniably overproduced - but the film is entertaining nonsense and you can't be too picky when it comes to the action genre. However, with some well-written characters and a moderate amount of character development, it rises above the usual standard of Van Damme or Chuck Norris rubbish. Although Die Hard 2 is occasionally just an unimaginative remake of the original film, there are still a handful of creative ideas incorporated into this sequel.
Bruce Willis supplies yet another masterful performance as John McClane. His sardonic wit is in tact, and he has great chemistry with the actors surrounding him. By the 1990s, Willis had become the essential embodiment of the realistic action hero. He was the John Wayne of the contemporary action genre. Like The Duke (i.e. John Wayne), Bruce Willis has his trademark characters. In fact the 1990s and beyond bore the releases of several Bruce Willis action vehicles. Out of this selection my personal favourites are The Last Boy Scout, Mercury Rising, Hostage and 16 Blocks. An honourable mention to Striking Distance as well. At heart, John McClane is a lone Western hero, much like the characters The Duke played during his golden years. Similar to John Wayne, Willis easily got stereotyped and very rarely stepped out of his comfort zone. But Willis knew what his strengths were, and he played to them.
Also returning from the original film is Bonnie Bedelia as McClane's wife. Bedelia plays the part wonderfully. She is also given the opportunity to deliver amusing wisecracks. William Sadler is very one-dimensional as the villain. This fact lies in both Sadler's performance and in the way the character is written. His proper motivations are never made clear, therefore he's never anything more than a typical action movie villain. He's not nearly as compelling, charismatic or interesting as Alan Rickman's performance in the first film. Rounding out the cast are William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson, Franco Nero, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Fred Dalton Thompson, and even Robert Patrick who appears very briefly (Robert Patrick will probably be most widely known as the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day).
All things considered, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a solid entry to the Die Hard canon. John McClane is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time once again, and we're all happier for it. Die Hard 2 isn't nearly of the quality of its predecessor, but it never tried to be. Occasionally one will have to accept McClane's superhuman powers and indestructibility, and the film is very derivative of its forerunner in addition to being preposterous and absurdly over-the-top - but hey, it's never boring. The realism of the first entry is sorely missed, yet there is a sufficient offering to keep any action fan happy. You'll be entertained, you'll root for the good guys, you'll love watching the bad guys get their just deserts, and you'll have the immortal words of John McClane in your heart - "Yippee-ki-yay Motherfucker!"
Followed by Die Hard: With A Vengeance.
"Oh man, I can't fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"
The first Die Hard instalment hit cinemas back in summer 1988. Produced by Joel Silver (whose name is also attached to the Lethal Weapon series and The Last Boy Scout, just to name a few), Die Hard set a new paradigm for action films. Gone was the indestructible hero capable of shooting his enemies with infallible precision while bullets magically skirted around him. In its place was an ordinary bloke who gets involuntarily entangled in circumstances that necessitate his heroics. Die Hard was also set in a claustrophobic location. This formula proved popular as it was soon applied to incalculable other action films including Air Force One, Passenger 57, Under Siege, and so on. Fox enjoyed the critical and commercial success of Die Hard, and within two years a sequel found its way into worldwide cinemas. Die Hard 2: Die Harder was an abundantly entertaining action film undermined by its utter implausibility and the exasperating affinity to the original film.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance is the third entry in the Die Hard series. There was a gap of five years between this third film and the earlier second film. These five years facilitated numerous things. For starters, the clichéd formula was modified and given a substantial spruce-up. The creative team realised yet another Die Hard facsimile would produce a mediocre sequel. So they adapted, and the plot was expanded into a buddy cop movie similar to the Lethal Weapon series.
John McTiernan (the man responsible for directing the original Die Hard) was brought back onboard as well. Naturally, Bruce Willis also agreed to reprise the role that made him a star. This third film also opted to eliminate much of the nostalgia aspect. The film's plot may have relevance to the preceding films, but returning characters are kept to a minimum. Die Hard: With a Vengeance is consequently a radically different addition to the Die Hard canon - but it's a good different and a change for the better. The claustrophobic setting is replaced with the far more expansive location of the city of New York.
In the opening scenes of the movie, a bomb is detonated in downtown New York City on a seemingly regular day. The mastermind behind this bombing identifies himself only as Simon (Irons). He contacts the police and informs them of his intentions to set off another bomb. He explains that another big bang will occur unless Detective John McClane (Willis) completes a number of set tasks. This instalment finds McClane on the booze, on suspension from the police force, and with his marriage in tatters. But he still dons his trademark vest, he's still handy with a gun and he's still wholly vulnerable. Anyway, McClane's first task takes him to Harlem where he meets Negro electrician Zeus Carver (Jackson). After Zeus becomes involuntarily intertwined in the state of affairs, he's forced to partner with McClane as Simon appoints them a number of tasks that take them around the city. The remainder of the plot is a series of contrivances to propel the terrible twosome of McClane and Zeus from one end of New York to the other (stopping in Canada of all places for the climax).
Die Hard: With a Vengeance is more destructive, more exhilarating and far more intense than the previous instalments. Yet it's still grounded in more reality than the second Die Hard entry. With a wider space for plot gestation, there are a wider range of possibilities for stunts and action sequences. Generic action film elements are added such as car chases, interesting arenas for shootouts, and general vehicle mayhem. Entire streets are blown up in sequences that stretch credulity almost past the point of breaking.
It should probably be noted that this is the most graphic Die Hard film in terms of language (about 90-10 f-bombs are dropped), violence, gory deaths (one guy is even sliced in half!) and even a brief sex scene. John McTiernan is of course at ease with the screenplay. He formerly helmed Predator and The Last Action Hero, as well as the first Die Hard film. He knows his way around an action scene, and he knows how to orchestrate this kind of action. Cinematographer Peter Menzies captures the action with consummate skill, making the action thrilling in its own right. As a result it's imbued with great energy. The definitive layers were added in post-production: John Wright's competent editing, Michael Kamen's impeccable music and the booming sound mix. Explosions and gunshots will give a speaker system one heck of a workout! And, of course, special effects are absolutely top-notch. As the digital age was slowly developing, there are a few CGI instances but they're not too noticeable. For the most part the special effects are quite seamless.
The original screenplay written by Jonathan Hensleigh wasn't meant to be a Die Hard film from the outset. When it was discovered that it could easily be moulded into the third Die Hard movie, re-writes commenced. Thankfully, there are plenty of wisecracks and amusing witticisms courtesy of John McClane's badass attitude. Bruce Willis plays the role with such ease that he improvised one-liners while the cameras rolled. The laughs are reasonably frequent and moderately droll. The searing chemistry of Willis and Samuel L. Jackson is off the chart. Their volatile attitudes generate very interesting scenarios. The film moves at an invigorating pace. It encompasses sufficient character development mixed with satisfying amounts of pure adrenaline-charged action: bombings, subway crashes, car chases and helicopter pursuits altogether creating the ultimate roller-coaster ride. While this description would usually fit any generic Van Damme or Steven Seagal action vehicle, Die Hard: With a Vengeance is cut above the pack. The intelligence of the first movie has made a welcome return. There are great unpredictable plot twists and clever set-ups. For an action movie it's fairly subversive.
Bruce Willis gives further weight to the argument that no-one can portray an action hero better than he can. The reason why we love John McClane so much is due to his attitude towards the situations he finds himself entangled in. Here's an interesting fact: the part of John McClane was originally offered to all the conventional 80s action stars. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal - they all had a shot. The beauty of casting Bruce Willis is that it avoids the clichés. Had it been one of these abovementioned names, Die Hard would have been a clichéd action ride that fell dead in the water after the first instalment. But they stayed away from conventions, and Willis immersed himself into the role perfectly.
Samuel L. Jackson is the ideal companion for Willis' John McClane. Jackson is a scene stealer and he rises above the material. Bruce Willis was reportedly unhappy about sharing the spotlight with Jackson. It's also been reported that Willis disliked the focus shift from lone ranger to buddy flick. Only really die-hard Willis purists (pun truly and absolutely intended) side with the actor.
Jeremy Irons is evil and sadistic and above all memorable as the villain. When it comes to Die Hard, a memorable villain is essential. His crisp European accent and interesting screen persona elevates him above the one-dimensional villain present in Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Even so, Alan Rickman remains unthreatened.
This time the cast is accompanied by such names as Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Anthony Peck, Nick Wyman, Sam Phillips and Kevin Chamberlin. These precise performances keep us engaged from the remarkable first frame to the last.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance opened a short time following a bombing in Oklahoma City. Needless to say, both critics and audiences were still shaken up from the bombings, and the film (although scripted, filmed and edited before the bombings took place) was treading on sensitive territory. It would be justified to state that viewers were unfairly harsh while watching the film for two reasons. Firstly, the Oklahoma City bombings affected them greatly. Secondly, this was a radically different Die Hard movie, exercising a different formula and a new batch of characters. Personally, I think this third Die Hard film is damn close to equalling the original. It only falls short due to its mildly sluggish pace at times. From time to time, logic is also the film's enemy (falling about 20 feet onto metal without a broken bone? I don't think so). Nevertheless this is excellent entertainment and a worthy film to sit under the Die Hard banner. It provides the rush of adrenalin, the witty one-liners, the exhilarating action and the outlandish stunt-work. It's an endearing, thrilling ride guaranteed to keep an audience on the edge of their seat.
Followed in 2007 by Live Free or Die Hard
"Listen, we got a report of a guy coming through here with, uh, eight reindeer." [shoots terrorists] "Yeah, they said he was a jolly, old, fat guy with a snowy, white beard. Cute little red and white suit. I'm surprised you didn't see him."
"All you gotta do is go pick up a kid down in New Jersey, and drive him down to D.C. How hard can that be, huh? Can't be that hard, now, can it? No, gotta be a senior detective. Think like a traffic jam, throwing a car at me's gonna stop me? Huh?"
THEATRICAL VERSION: 4/5
According to Bruce Willis, money wasn't the reason he agreed to return to the Die Hard series for this fourth entry...he just wasn't satisfied with Die Hard 2: Die Harder or Die Hard: With a Vengeance. The second Die Hard movie was highly entertaining nonsense, but it was fairly undercut because it replicated the original too often and there were too many utterly preposterous action scenes. The third, while almost on par with the original, altered the formula to create more of a Lethal Weapon style buddy action flick. Willis reportedly wanted to give John McClane a more fitting farewell. Live Free or Die Hard (known in other countries as Die Hard 4.0) thus entered pre-production.
From the outset Willis aimed to go back to the original formula of focusing primarily on John McClane and diminishing the humour in favour of pure action. In tradition with any action movie sequel, the film had to up the ante and push the envelope. This time the old-fashioned John McClane finds himself battling cyber-terrorism. While Willis wanted Live Free or Die Hard to be superior to the previous sequels (in an interview he even stated it was better than the first film), this is the weakest in the series. However, that's a fairly faint criticism. The film still supplies the action, it moves at a breakneck pace and it's wholly exhilarating.
Prior to the eventual release of Live Free or Die Hard, there were countless controversies and concerns. First of all, Len Wiseman was handed the reigns. While his Underworld movies were fun and action-packed, they were too digital...and the Die Hard series is anything but digital. Justin Long was another worry. This is the guy from the Mac commercials! Last but not least, the most significant controversy was this being the first Die Hard movie to receive a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. The previous instalments were rated R for good reasons: violence was severe, profanity was frequent, and bloodshed was graphic. The decision to dilute the content was because this was a summer blockbuster and it'd die at the box office with so many other PG-13 titles hitting the cinema. This proves that Hollywood studios no longer possess the balls or backbone to continue producing R-rated action flicks. I had reasonably low expectations for this film with the PG-13 rating in mind, though it didn't stop me from looking forward to it (especially with the incredible trailers, rave reviews and a temporary position on the IMDb Top 250). While this fourth Die Hard outing is a mild disappointment, it's still an entertaining action romp and a worthy film to rest under the Die Hard banner.
"You're a Timex watch in a digital age!
The terrorists this time are a group of hackers who begin a cyber-terrorism plot to systematically shut down the United States. We find John McClane (Willis) who has now passed his prime. He's long divorced and having trouble establishing a relationship with his daughter Lucy (Winstead). Now McClane works for the NYPD and occasionally does jobs for the United States Department of Homeland Security. On the eve of Independence Day, there's a breach in the FBI computer system. In retaliation the FBI wishes to interview all the most notorious hackers who could be capable of hacking their system. John McClane is contacted and ordered to collect a young hacker named Matt Ferrell (Long). This seemingly straightforward assignment results in McClane becoming entangled in the cyber-terrorism attack. It's a call of duty for McClane as he feels compelled to do whatever he can. Once again the FBI and the regular police force are useless, and the duties of saving the day fall to McClane.
Live Free or Die Hard is a straightforward summer blockbuster. There's an abundance of action to witness, and there's a lot of fun to be had. Needless to say, the action is extremely over-the-top. The over-the-top nature of the action is among the film's downfalls. One of the most controversial sequences was McClane battling an F-35 fighter jet while a highway collapses. It's an exhilarating sequence, but some of the CGI is somewhat obvious and similar to that of a video game. There's also a ludicrous scene during which McClane jumps out of a car that conveniently keeps moving at full speed and crashes into a conveniently placed helicopter. It's preposterous to extremes, but then again all the Die Hard films have their fair share of ridiculous moments. This is a film that was made to entertain, and it accomplishes this goal.
I'm pleased to report that the traditional shootouts are both exciting and energetic. The first shootout (in Matt Ferrell's apartment) is simply thrilling to watch. Arguably the best action scene of 2007 is also present in this movie: a helicopter pursuing guys on the street. A car chase ensues. It's pulse-pounding and exciting. When this sequence concludes with a car crashing into a helicopter it may be preposterous but it's a practical special effect. Normally, in this digital age, heavy CGI would be employed. This is not the case. For relying on stunt-work and practical explosions, the creative team deserve to be lauded. There's also a scene in an elevator shaft that'll have you on the edge of your seat. Len Wiseman lacks the flair of John McTiernan and Renny Harlin, but for a young and moderately inexperienced lad his efforts are commendable. However, the directing/editing collaboration at times is appalling. Painfully obvious ADR (popular theory is that these scenes were profanity-laced but had to have new dialogue recorded to obtain the PG-13 rating), close-ups not matching long shots, continuity looking utterly messy, and so on. For such a modern action movie, I never expected to witness this low standard when it comes to editing.
"Another day in paradise.
In tradition with the rest of the Die Hard series, the special effects are (for the most part) absolutely terrific. A lot of stunts and practical effects are employed with remarkable results. And of course, no Die Hard flick is complete without the customary tense music and spectacular sound effects. This is the first instalment in the series without the music of Michael Kamen. Instead, young composer Marco Beltrami was brought onboard. This was subject to further worrying, but Beltrami's efforts are incredibly effective. The trademark Die Hard music is frequently employed. This music raises the tension when it wants to, and gets your heart racing during the action.
Mark Bomback has constructed a surprisingly terrific script. To be honest, I never expected this guy to produce anything worthwhile. Bomback did write that turkey known as Godsend, after all. Despite his previous bombs, Bomback mixes classic McClane wisecracks and witticisms with enjoyable scenarios. McClane's sarcasm, wit and hilarious remarks are continual. Other characters are also given legendary, quotable one-liners.
It's been twelve years since Die Hard: With a Vengeance, yet Bruce Willis is capable of slipping into the character of John McClane again with ease. He's a much older and more mature McClane, but at heart he's still the action hero we all know and love. It's a shame he wasn't given more f-bombs to drop, though. This is among the script's shortcomings. But Willis is in good shape: he's still handy in close combat, he's still dexterous with a gun, and he is still an utter badass. In fact, despite the diluted violence there is still a lot of killing. There isn't much blood, but McClane is brutal and efficient in dispatching enemies. Naturally, McClane is still a hero who's easy to root for. This time he has found no solace in a life of being a hero. It must be said that McClane's occasional superhuman capabilities are somewhat distracting, though, especially towards the end. Thankfully it's still fun and exhilarating.
Justin Long is McClane's sidekick for this adventure. A young actor famous for Mac commercials, I hear you ask? Fear not. Long has done everything the script called for him to do. He offers a very believable character.
Timothy Olyphant was endlessly criticised for not being as sinister or as evil as the other villains in the series. Truth be told, he's probably a little underwhelming. Nevertheless, his character is a disgruntled government worker who goes postal on the system he helped design. Being more sinister would have made his character far less realistic in my opinion.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead appears as John McClane's daughter. Not only is Mary a great actress, but she's quite hot. As Mary is playing McClane's daughter, she's also feisty and witty.
Other additions to the cast include a very memorable Cliff Curtis and a slick Maggie Q. Jonathan Sadowski and Cyril Raffaelli are also terrific. Then there's Kevin Smith as an overweight hacker literally still living in his mother's basement. Smith is a delight to watch.
Live Free or Die Hard scratches an itch that needed scratching. Over the course of the past 10 years, the traditional shoot 'em up action flick morphed into something else. Something...lamer. Take The Mummy and its sequels. Or anything Tony Scott has done lately: style over substance plagues the frame, with the shaky cam/fast cutting syndrome dominating modern action films. Die Another Day was widely criticised by audiences, and regarded as the worst Bond in history for the overuse of digital effects instead of miniatures or more practical effects. If everything is digital or incomprehensibly filmed, it feels like there's less danger. CGI these days barely enhances...it overwhelms to the point of distraction. You have to be a really talented director to pull off a CGI fest. Len Wiseman is the right man in the right place. Despite the Underworld films being the worst offenders of cheesy CGI, he wisely eschews his big bag of digital tricks for Live Free or Die Hard. He goes old school; making use of stuntmen, real exploding cars and extensive sets. This is a movie a little out of touch with modern times and frankly it's a breath of fresh air.
Live Free or Die Hard is the weakest in the Die Hard series, but by no means is it a terrible movie. There's so much creativity being offered in the scenarios, characters and one-liners. Cyber-terrorism is also a potent issue in this digital age, thus creating an interesting premise. This is a summer flick, and a damn fine summer blockbuster at that! The action never slows down, the suspense keeps building and the wisecracks keep coming. It's competently made as well. There are shortcomings, such as the ridiculously over-the-top action sequences, the crummy editing and the lack of genuine Die Hard content...but it doesn't matter. This is a beer and pizza/popcorn event. It exists to entertain, and it does that. It's by far one of the most solid action movies of the 2007 summer season. I loved it! The film was later re-edited in and uncut version (reviewed below).
UNCUT VERSION: 2.5/5
I'll be frank: my disappointment with the watering down of Live Free or Die Hard was the equivalent of being depressed following a death in the family. The latest plague affecting contempora
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