Dailies: Live Free or Die Hard
By Derek Turner
July 17, 2007
Almost two decades after John McClane single-handedly defeated a group of terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza, he returns to the big screen to save America from villain Thomas Gabriel. Of course, Gabriel is out to destroy all computer systems governing the United States. The result is an entertaining and at times preposterous blockbuster that is high on adrenaline-driving, testosterone-pumping action sequences and short on plot, character and continuity with previous installments in the Die Hard series.
Bruce Willis is physically impressive as John McClane, though his performance seems to indicate that he is somewhat tired with this kind of movie. He adds little nuance to McClane, and there is little sense that he cares about what happens to him. Justin Long (the Mac guy in the PC vs. Mac series of advertisements) plays computer hacker Matthew Farrell, who serves as McClane’s predictable, pedantic and annoying sidekick. Timothy Olyphant is rather underused as the villain Gabriel, but actress Maggie Q makes a striking appearance as Gabriel’s second-in-command. Filmmaker/actor Kevin Smith makes a memorable cameo as a computer geek.
Where Live Free or Die Hard really falls short is in comparison to the first three Die Hard movies. Take, for example, the development of John McClane. In the first three installments, McClane was a cop who was a little more clever and a lot braver than most of his peers, but he has since become an indestructible superman. There are glimpses, certainly, of the McClane we know, but they are too few to keep a consistent impression that this is, in fact, the same John McClane. Furthermore, part of the appeal of the first three films is the relatively claustrophobic feel created by a confined setting. Live Free or Die Hard has a sweeping epic feel, driven by the constant and overbearing American iconography peppered throughout the movie.
But the audience is not watching this movie for plot or character development; it is watching it to see wild stunts and unfathomable action sequences. In this respect, Live Free or Die Hard does not disappoint, though it stretches the limits of reason and even imagination. But regardless of how utterly impossible some of McClane’s antics may be, it is difficult to remember a movie with action sequences that are as audacious and stunning as this one.
In the end, the biggest problem is that this movie cannot decide whether it should be anachronistically campy or grittily realistic. It settles somewhere in between the two in an awkward balance that removes it both from its cinematic peers as well as its predecessors in the Die Hard series. Live Free or Die Hard is an entertaining American action movie, but in today’s movie culture, it seems like “a Timex watch in a digital world,” as Gabriel labels McClane. So unless you’re a Die Hard fan, you can “live free” of guilt if you wait to see this movie.