April 26, 2013

Queer Review: Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard
Director: John McTiernan
Writers: Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. Based upon the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, Alan Rickman, James Shigeta, Hart Bochner

As surprising as it may seem, Die Hard could be considered a sequel to one of the earliest films to deal explicitly with the topic of queer sexuality. However, Die Hard diverges considerably from the novel Nothing Lasts Forever which was a sequel to The Detective, thereby obscuring the connection. That does not stop Die Hard the film from being entertaining, but it is a much different animal from it's source.

On Christmas Eve, NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), with whom he is estranged from, out in LA. Six months ago she had accepted an executive position with the Nakatomi Corporation, while John had stayed behind in New York City. Their reunion is brief and soon interrupted by a group of disguised terrorists (who are actually thieves after $640 million bearer bonds currently being protected in the building vaults) led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). While the thieves hold the members of the Nakatomi Corporation hostage as they try to break into the vaults, John McClane escapes in a desperate attempt to wreck havoc on their plans.

The Queering
The novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe, was a sequel to The Detective which was made into a a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra. Die Hard the film though, should not be considered a direct sequel, as the film differs from the book in many significant ways. Furthermore, while Die Hard 2: Die Harder went so far as to credit Roderick Thorp with creating the characters, only the barest echo of Frank Sinatra's Joe Leland can be seen in Bruce Willis's John McClane. Furthermore, Bonnie Bedelia's Holly is a completely different character bearing no resemblance to Lee Remick's Karen Leland. For example, Karen would certainly have taken Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) up on the offer he made to Bonnie at the beginning of the film.

The Detective the film, was problematic in many ways, but it attempted to include (for the time period) portrayels of sympathetic gay characters. Unfortunately, it failed in that endeavor. What The Detective the film did succeed at was a rather adult perspective on the subject matter, as well as including some rather interesting thematic content related to issues of intersectionality. Roderick's novels, from what research I have done, appear to have also attempted to look at deeper themes and ideas.

Die Hard the film though, attempts to be nothing more than a popcorn action flick, although admittedly it is a very well done popcorn action flick. There is almost no queer content whatsoever, unless you count little things, like a drunken male party goer kissing John McClane at the beginning. McClane reacts to that incident pretty much the way I would have expected LeLand to have. Re-watching Die Hard this time arround, I was actually surprised to notice how unfeminine Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber is. He is intelligent and sophisticated to be sure, but not the least bit fey.

There is of the course the matter in which the LAPD is portrayed, which leads me to the conclusion that no one involved with the film roots for the Dodgers. While McClane (an NYPD detective) is shown to be smart and highly resourceful, pretty much every member of the LAPD who shows up on screen is either an idiot or comic relief. When John McClane first attempts to send out a distress signal on the radio about the hostage situation, he is lectured by a dispatcher for using an emergency broadband channel. When the LAPD finally do show up, Deputy Police Chief Robinson (Paul Gleason) ignores information that the thieves are armed with heavy artillery and attempts to send in a team to retake the building, with predictable results. During this offensive, LAPD officers are shown trying to use an acetylene torch to remove the lock on a glass door. Even at the end, Robinson refuses to give McClane credit for his efforts to save the hostages. The LA media doesn't fare much better. During the hostage crises, one upstart reporter forces his way into the house where the McClane kids are being babysat and the resulting interview provides Hans Gruber with a vital piece of information. I guess people in Hollywood don't have a whole lot of hometown pride...

Otherwise, there is not a lot I can say about this, other than what has shown up in pretty much every other review by now. Die Hard set the template for so many other later films (such as Speed). The action is riviting! And well directed! And won't you check out the cinematography! Which is admittedly rather well done. After watching Die Hard I am kind of tempted to have a law passed that mandates a minimum amount of time a shot can last. Seriously, there has been an unfortunate trend with recent films to over-edit, and not just their action sequences. Two more recent films that come to mind are Snow White and the Huntsman and The Hungar Games where even the non-action sequences refused to allow the camera to linger. Watching Die Hard, which features impressive cinematography and classical editing, was a nice reminder that sometimes less can be more, particularly when it comes time to cut a film.

Perhaps not worth dying for, either the hard way or softly, but I would say Die Hard is worth seeking out.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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