Hands down, the original Die Hard is one of the greatest action movies ever made – it’s relentlessly inventive, engaging and funny at the same time.
Bruce Willis’ John McClane is in the tradition of Sean Connery as James Bond and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones – a hero who shows fear. He’s a guy who is continually petrified by what’s happening to him, but that doesn’t keep him from pushing through it. And instead of making the hero smaller for the audience, it makes him larger – because we recognize the fear. Alan Rickman was a fantastic villain, too.
John McTiernan’s direction is an amazing piece of intricate craftsmanship. What a lot of filmmakers have trouble communicating is a sense of geography. For instance, one floor of a building under construction looks a lot like any other floor. But McTiernan put in little things, like a Playboy centerfold hung up by a construction worker. At first it seems like a visual joke, but it’s really there to identify that floor, so when Willis encounters it again, the audience knows exactly where he is. Many directors also shoot action very sloppily – they shoot up close and cut around a lot and put in all these big noises to distract you. But in Die Hard, you know where every character is every second of the movie. Things are going by at a fast clip, but you’re never lost.
Most action movies have great sequences, but they aren’t great movies. Die Hard starts great and just stays at that level from beginning to end.
This is from the February 28th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.