Die Hard (1988), An Unlikely Christmas Movie, But Still A Christmas Movie



Die Hard (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Robert Davi, and Alan Rickman

Produced by  Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver

Based on the novel: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp


Author’s Note: Scroll to the bottom of this post for a special companion audio clip.


Background:  One of my friends had a hard time answering the question of what his favorite Christmas carol was and he answered with this instead. “I’ll tell you what my favorite Christmas movie is though…Die Hard.” It can be called a Christmas movie. It is about a Christmas party gone wrong.


That answer was no surprise to me on several counts. My pal is a cop, and Die Hard is a fine film! Die Hard may not be a traditional Christmas movie, however to say Christmas does not influence it would be untrue. My friend’s comment made me think it was time to revisit the film. After a night of good pizza, my in-laws, my wife, and I did revisit Die Hard. I don’t get excited about watching movies ever, really. But I was excited to see this one again.

Die Hard is a good film for several reasons. The protagonists,  and one of the storytelling techniques.


Synopsis: Officer-Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a cop at the right place at the right time. It is Christmas and his estranged wife: Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) has an executive-level job at the Nakatomi Corporation. He is visiting her and the party is crashed by German terrorists led by Hans Gruber, a splinter member of the Deutsch Volkfrei movement which appears to have been influenced by the Baader-Meinhof Group or the Red Army Faction from the real life 1970s. Gruber & company take hostages, including McClane’s wife. Armed only with a Beretta 92, chutzpah, and wits,  McClane has to fight a numerically superior enemy in a high rise skyscraper.

The Protagonists: Officer-Detective McClane is resourceful, intelligent, and collaborative. He realizes the gravity of the situation he’s been thrown in to. His wife is hostage along with twenty-nine others. He’ll be a fortunate man if he ever sees his wife, his children, and the party goers again. He picks off his enemy one by one at first, but after he secures one of their MP5s he’s a force to be reckoned with. He gathers intelligence on his foes by eavesdropping outside doors or in elevator shafts, listening to their radio chatter, or merely forcing the intelligence out of them.

McClane knows that his foes are committing forcible felonies: murders, kidnappings, and armed robbery. McClane uses deadly force and is confronted with one terrorist who is unaware of the force ladder developed in the United States. These two lines from WikiQuote sum up the situation well.

Tony Vreski: “Because you’re a policeman. There are rules for policemen.”

John McClane: “Yeah. That’s what my captain keeps telling me.” [elbows Tony in the ear]



Holly McClane (Bonnie Bedelia): Realizes as well that this is a grave situation. She becomes a de facto leader of the hostages and helps a lady with child stay comfortable. She maintains her composure and keeps these people safer than they were with her actions.

Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson): Al Powell is a desk jockey on his way home, who is the responding officer to McClane’s radio distress message. In the course of the film he  offers a lot of advice and takes in the intelligence McClane provides to analyze it. Powell is a stoic cop who keeps the malignant deputy chief of police off of McClane’s back as the situation escalates.


Other characters could be mentioned as well. Robert Davi, one of my favorite actors, plays a Special Agent Johnson. Argyle (De’voreaux White )the limo driver helps John McClane ease into his new surroundings as he comes from New York, not California. This is an example of a storytelling method the movie has that is so important, and that is the art of conversation for character development.

Conversations: McClane’s  only active allies are Sgt. Powell and Argyle. Argyle helps him get settled in. Powell is his mouthpiece to a deputy chief of police who merely wants to keep control of a situation he can barely fathom. Powell is also a counselor, and McClane counsels Powell.

Powell reveals to McClane that he is an administrative sergeant, a desk jockey. He no longer serves on the street due to a tragic mistake. McClane provides a listening ear. During later in the movie McClane delivers a message akin to the “tell my wife I love her” trope commonly seen in thriller films. Powell says to McClane that this is something he can say to her himself when the crisis ends.


These conversations add value to the story and create characters that while they are fictional seem more real than many action films of this caliber.


Final Analysis: Die Hard is a film worth watching. You’ll enjoy this Christmas movie and if you are like me you’ll see how this film influenced detective fiction. This will be discussed further in a later post.


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