Live Free or Die Hard
by Del Harvey
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He’s back, and better than ever.
Originally titled Die Hard 4.0: Reload, the fourth in this bulletproof action series takes NYPD Lieutenant Detective John McClane to D.C. to pick up a computer hacker who’s just cracked the FBI’s network. Actually, he and 100 of his closest peers did this, under a ruse devised by a terrorist group led by Deadwood’s Timothy Olyphant and M:I:III’s Maggie Q. This pair is in the process of running a “fire sale”; that’s politi-geek slang for systematically shutting down the nation’s infrastructure. Nowadays, the country runs on computers, so their work is mostly virtual at first—through the internet, comm lines, and so on. McClane just happened to be checking in on his daughter at Rutgers University when he got the call late at night. The FBI requested a senior officer, so he’s their local boy. When he arrives at the home of hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long, late of Mac vs. PC fame), they are both suddenly attacked by a five-man team of crack assassins. Bullets shred walls, explosions blow whole floors out of apartment buildings, and bad guys go crashing 15 floors to the ground.
Thus begins 130 minutes of Live Free or Die Hard, and the ride just gets harder and stronger and better from there.
In fact, this script is probably the best of the bunch. Yeah, purists love the first one, and there’s no doubt it’s a classic, but it’s not updated. This one is as good as the original, and even better because it has been updated. The action is breath-taking. The stunts are outrageous; I watched through the credits and there must have been nearly 100 names under the “Stunts” category.
I’ve heard all kinds of silly comments about this film. Shortly after the first trailer came out on the ‘net, one of my screenwriting students commented that, “They blow up a helicopter with a car! How believable is that?!” Well, it’s about as believable as a bunch of hobbitses saving the world, or a man shooting webs out of his arms so he can swing around the city. And so many critics are saying, “He’s like John Wayne!” Well, no, that’s not true. Wayne was swaggering and sulked around a lot. Willis is more like Bogart; he has a sense of humor, he has a sense of fearlessness, and he has a sense of style. Wayne had little of that which he could call his own. I’ve heard people say, “It’s an old franchise, and Willis is an old man.” Sure… age happens. But, unlike some actors of his generation, Willis still can pull it off, and far better than many thanks to his abilities with nuance and character. And, probably the most ridiculous of all, I’ve heard people complain about the villains in this film, namely Maggie Q and Timothy Olyphant. When they see the film, they’ll see Maggie kick butt with unrestrained nastiness. And they’ll see Olyphant portray an egotistical fanatic whose mad genius is often foiled by his own personal desires. They’re different characters from the ones Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman portrayed; get over it!
Die Hard 4.0 is a non-stop ballet of action, a deftly crafted conflagration of story and situations, and features a pair of strong but real-seeming characters at the core of a film that toys with the concept of national terror. Somehow, director Len Wiseman pulls it off. The cinematography is excellent, as it is in all the Die Hard films. Supporting actors Cliff Curtis as an FBI director and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane’s daughter are first-rate. But the outstanding stars of this film are its stunt persons. They deliver a lot of pulse-pounding excitement and do so in a very convincing manner.
Finally, I feel I must remind you, gentle reader, that you go to a Die Hard film for the action, the escapism, and the simply mindless fun. It is not high art, it is not deep and meaningful; it is an action film. Don’t expect great drama, romance, or profound thought. Instead, expect to be entertained. And this sequel, unlike many others, has been masterfully reloaded so that entertainment is exactly what you get. And yippi-ki-yay to that.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He teaches screenwriting and makes films in Chicago.
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