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Die Hard 1


The citizen-soldier

We return to my favorite action film director: Mr. John McTiernan. His portrayal of the American hero in the American city is our subject today, as opposed to man outside the city (The Predator). He excelled at both, who knew the soul of man.

Mr. Bruce Willis is to be our hero, the unusual policeman John McClane. Inobedient, he is unpopular. His dissatisfaction with the law he enforces shows in his humor. A policeman with a sense of humor is a man who knows the limits of the laws without abandoning them. We must ask about his limits, because we suspect they are the limits of his understanding of our laws & of our limits. We expect to transform this suspicion into a certainty. This being a California story, let us first note that John McClane is to Hollywood what Ronald Reagan was to America.

The wife left him & now goes by her maiden name. She is a corporate lawyer running a company for a Japanese man. This is her comic betrayal of husband & country. It is just as true that he could not do in New York what he is doing in Los Angeles. – He is a policeman in NYC. There, he is ordered around. This was pre-Giuliani New York: Policemen did not stop crime.

John McClane decides to protect the people taken hostage. They are what people call innocent. He is aware of his own excellence & of the wickedness of the terrorists. He does not risk his life unnecessarily, leaving the Japanese CEO to his death. He deceives people, always seeking the advantage in the fight, which includes playing dumb. His first thought is avoiding the fight by cleverness. Why is he no more surprised that terror is roaming the land nor more doubtful of his abilities?

Nobility implies one thinks well of that for which one sacrifices. But McClane has no sweet words for the world he is saving. His silence is his endurance. We see a blue-collar man reduced to bloody, dirty nudity. This corresponds to the talk of cowboys. Hardship alone reveals his self-control. If his suffering points to what is lovable about America, it’s very indirect. Mostly, he complains that it happened to him. But then repetition makes it all sound like boasting.

This takes place in LA. It might be a private affair: It’s just one building. Or a matter of national security: The incompetent alphabet soup of government security: CIA, FBI… Even a confrontation between major powers… But in Hollywood, this is the self-defense of Hollywood. Such stories made on behalf – or for the sake – of America recall the phrase, The country does pretty good which in times of peace thinks of war.

This was the best movie of a brief period when tough & funny movies were set during Christmas!