Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Russia

"You got a plan?" ~ John McClane

"Not really. I kinda thought we would just wing it, you know. Running in, guns blazing. Make it up as we go." ~ Jack McClane

Bruce Willis is back in his signature role, wise ass and lone wolf cop John McClane, who has a habit of annoying terrorists, in the fifth movie in the Die Hard series, entitled A Good Day To Die Hard. When this series started twenty five years ago, John was coming into LA to try to reconnect with his estranged wife, and happened to irritate a group of Eurotrash terrorists who took over a building to carry out a heist. Since then, John's gotten divorced, spent years estranged from his kids, and built up quite a death toll taking out terrorists and hijackers (when he wasn't taunting them by phone or radio). The character started out as a very different alternative to the invicible Schwarzenegger roles, an action character who bled, who got hurt, who could feel. And it made McClane all the more likeable.

Now in the fifth film in the series, McClane is back once again, this despite the fact that the amount of injuries he's sustained down through the years probably should have put him into early retirement, disability, or drinking meals out of a straw. Having had reconciled with his daughter in the last film, Live Free Or Die Hard, there's still the matter of his son, who he hasn't spoken to in years. Jack (played by Jai Courtney) is in legal trouble in Russia. John goes over, and little does he know that he's stepping into an undercover operation. Jack works for the CIA as a spy, and is involved in trying to protect a whistleblower (Sebastian Koch) in a situation involving incriminating files, shady politicians, criminals, and nefarious sorts. 

There's deep friction between father and son (Jack calls him by his first name, rather than Dad). And John, being a magnet for trouble, pretty much needs little time before the bullets start flying, a dizzying sprint that involves a lot of guns, chases, damage and destruction, and a dangerous woman (Yulija Snigir).

The film has its issues. For me, the most glaring one is the choice of director. John Moore has a rather small resume, including Flight of the Phoenix (which I didn't mind), but also the film that should have been a huge red flag: Behind Enemy Lines, a testament to absolute stupidity in filmmaking (don`t get me started). Moore seems content to give us the standard quick cut edits of the genre, over the top stunts that have a lack of reality to them, dizzying chases that don't have the distance to allow the audience to keep track of what's happening, and some glaring plot holes that one assumes he figured the audience would just overlook, because what Western audience knows the difference between Russia and the Ukraine? I came out of the film wishing that another director would have taken the helm of this project. Someone who'd understand that for all of the action, what's given earlier films in the franchise real substance is its humanity.

What appeals about the earlier films is that humanity, that emotional connection McClane makes with the audience. We empathized with him, because he was so human, so down to earth. Moore seems to prefer endless action over character moments; he doesn`t seem remotely interested in investing in those nuances at all. If he had been, he would have cast a much, much better actor in the role of Jack McClane.

Jai Courtney is the other big problem in the film. He has the typical invincible ripped abs look of an action movie character, but no resonance, no gravitas, no humanity at all. He has a background in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and if he has any talent in that medium, it`s sorely lacking here. It`s an emptiness, a void of a role. This was not a problem in the somewhat silly fourth role, where McClane had a suitable and skilled actress in the form of Mary Elizabeth Winstead to give humanity to the role of his other estranged child. In this case, a completely different actor would have been far better.

Willis himself is still McClane: a snarky wise ass who smirks at the world, but who gives us a world weary man we can sympathize with. Sarcastic as he is, beneath it all, he cares about people. We can`t help but like McClane, and that`s the strength of Willis as an actor. The character actors inhabiting the doublecrossing world of the film are suitably cast, particularly Yulija Snigir as Irina.

I did like the film. I just would have liked it more... if not for a hack of a director and a profoundly miscast young McClane.


  1. I've never seen any of the Die Hards. But I always hear about people watching them during Christmas.

  2. I did see one, but never felt the urge to see another. I had a hunch it would be the same.

  3. You have the best reviews.
    I watched the first one with Alan Rickman Love him ! and the one about the plane landing... don't know which one that was.
    I admit I like the ones I saw because of Bruce Willis.

    cheers, parsnip

  4. Amazing that this movie just won't die-hard. I thought the first one was great but I didn't really need more. We just need more William. Great review.

  5. I've always liked Bruce Willis (post-Moonlighting, anyway) for the reasons you've stated here. He brings humanity to the action hero role, whether it's John McClane or Harry Stamper in Armageddon. I was already looking forward to seeing this I can't wait!

    Thanks for another great review, partner!

  6. @Whisk: the first two are set at Christmas, and they're a lot of fun!

    @Mari: one terrorist after the next..

    @Parsnip: that was the second.

    @Eve: thank you!

    @Norma: thanks!

  7. I enjoyed the first Die Hard but haven't seen the rest - Bruce Willis does well in every role I've seen him, regardless of how much I like the movie. This one sounds like it could've been much more promising, if not for a few unfortunate choices...

  8. I liked the first Die Hard best.

    I like Bruce Willis but he's getting a little long in the tooth for action films, IMO. If they're going to make it a franchise, maybe they should start over, a la James Bond?

    Nice review, William!

  9. Interesting review. I enjoyed the first two Die Hards very much. I never bothered to see the third or fourth because I figure after two they've blown their wad. Willis' charm can only keep my attention for so long. Besides, estranged children plots tend to annoy me. I think I'll rewatch Die Hard 1 and 2 and leave it at that!

  10. I'm pretty sure I've only ever seen the first Die Hard movie and I don't remember much of it.

  11. @LondonLulu: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho."

    @Cheryl: just as long as they don't cast Shia LeDoofus as a young John McClane.

    @Lynn: the first two are the best.

    @Kelly: it does have one of the best movie villains ever, that first one...

  12. I have not seen any one of the Die Hard movies, although I do like Bruce Willis. Did you ever hear of the TV show years ago called Moonlighting with Bruce Willis and Katherine or Kathleen (my memory fails me, but she starred in Romancing the Stone, I think. It will come to me later. Or maybe I'm all goofed up.)

    Anyway, thanks for giving me a glimpse into the Die Hard series. I enjoy your reviews.

  13. The first movie was the best. The second was okay and I thought the third one stunk so I quit watching them. You are a good reviewer and I trust your judgement but this looks like a renter to me.

  14. Your reviews are always awesome! I've seen the first two Die Hard movies, but for some reason, never got around to watch the others. Even watching the trailer for this installment hadn't enticed me, but after reading this, I might be more inclined, despite the poor directing.

  15. I never watch movies that have guns and shooting William, so can't judge the Die Hard series, but have watched Bruce Willis in lighter comedy roles and like him very much.

  16. @Christine: it was Cybil Shepard, actually. I've never seen the series, but heard about it.

    @Deb: The first two are definitely the best of the lot.

    @GK: just go in with eyes open!

    @Grace: I'll have to go to my grave living down the fact that I liked Hudson Hawk.


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