Cinemalphabet: L is for Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
There is always a moment in a Bruce Willis film (except perhaps The Jackal and Unbreakable) where he flashes that iconic shit-eating smirk at the camera, which contrary to popular belief is not his default facial setting. At rest, Willis’ face is as impassive as a slab of granite, but – you know – in a good way. I don’t recall it every showing up so early in a film! We’re talking less than six minutes in and the ink on the credits hadn’t even dried. That was really exciting. I love seeing age on actor’s faces and Bruce has such a great face. It was nice enough when he was on Moonlighting and seems to have gotten much more cuter as he’s gotten older. I love the lines and folds and that starburst of crinkles that border the outer corner of his eyes. Willis doesn’t really have to do much talking; his face can do most of the talking for him.
What I’ve always loved about the character John McClane is that he doesn’t know anything about anything other than being a cop. He doesn’t keep up on the latest fashions, trends in parenting, pop culture phenoms or technological advances! To him a fax machine is as baffling as the cockpit of a 747, neither of which he knows how to work! As a cop, McClane knows a lot about people; their motivations, their tells when they’re lying, etc and he’s incredibly perceptive and sharp minded. Nevertheless the fact that McClane is an analog man living in a digital world is brought home in the most unpleasant way in a series of events starting with McClane’s discovery of the Lojack tracking device in his squad car and culminating with a shootout with snarky, informed “sociopath” (you can tell by his obsession with holding your gaze a beat too long without blinking) played by the dishy Timothy Olyphant! I won’t front, Timothy Olyphant always seems kind of bonks to me, so like many other typecasted actors his appearance in a film is often its own spoiler.
Olyphant stars as Thomas Gabriel a bitterlicious computer expert who like every other villain John McClane encounters claims not to be interested in various forms of wealth. And like every other villain John McClane encounters Gabriel is a big ole liar. Well technically speaking, Hans Gruber did self identify as a “thief” despite others calling him a terrorist. In any event, Olyphant’s Gabriel is not a particularly nice person. The gorgeous and talented Maggie Q co-stars as resident babe and ass kicker in manner of A View to a Kill‘s Mayday. By law Die Hard movies are only allowed two females in major roles, so it is with great sadness that I inform you of the disillusion of the marriage between John and Holly Gennaro McClane.
Fortunately, McClane still has a female in his life who is all about busting his chops! Little Lucy McClane is all grown up and attends Rutgers. She also doesn’t wish to be called “Lucy McClane” except when bound and gagged by Gabriel and his merry band of cyber hackers. The Mac himself, Justin Long plays Clane’s annoying charge Matthew Ferrell and I wanted to hate him, but he won me over with the line, “Good luck at the bad timing awards!” and then I just enjoyed his performance. Long is really adorable as the hacker sought by the FBI and Gabriel for different reason, which I’ll be honest I never manage to catch nor care about whenever I watch this film. There is one amazing comic relief actor who is too hilarious to spoil here. Rounding out the cast are old friend Zeljko! and the glorious actor of Maori descent Cliff Curtis, who I vividly remember from both The Runaway Jury and the stunning film Once Were Warriors.
The stakes are high and the action is over the top. Yet somehow it stills retains a shred of realism. Well except for the part where McClane hurls I believe a car at a helicopter and brings the chopper down. But the parts of Matthew Ferrell being geeky and having asthma and knowing other geeky folks who live with their moms seemed kind of real. As an occasionally whiny asthmatic myself, Long’s portrayal of one seemed pretty authentic. In fact all of his dialogue sounded as though he’d taken a hit or twenty of his puffer before speaking. He was kind of wired! Long and Willis seem to get along fine and their chemistry is the classic “old and busted/new hotness” dynamic. Willis’ acting is so effortless and he slips back into McClane’s world weary skin with ease and a respectable level of snark. Curiously, Willis, who I tend to think of as a performer who underutilizes his inside voice, delivers most of his dialogue in a husky honey drenched sotto voce! Of all four films in the series, Live Free or Die Hard boasts Willis at his most gorgeous and athletically impressive. He’s in great shape and believable as an aged cop with a few tricks up his sleeve. Live Free or Die Hard is the kind of film that even if you don’t like action movies or – Xena forbid Bruce Willis – it manages to suck you in with its well scripted characters and dazzling action sequences. And look, when you basically changed the action movie game – as the original Die Hard did in 1987 – you don’t have shit to prove to anyone. Play on, playa, play on!