June 28, 2007

Movie Review: Live Free or Die Hard

Posted in Movies at 11:16 pm by Calico Jack

Live Free or Die Hard is a welcome throwback to traditional action films, filled with ruthless bad guys (and one particularly lethal bad girl), outrageously complicated schemes for world domination, and a jaded antihero who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — in Bruce Willis’s case, for the fourth time over the past twenty years. He’s one unlucky cop, isn’t he? But a slightly ridiculous plot and a few unnecessary effects showcases notwithstanding, Live Free or Die Hard is one of the better action films in recent years; and is easily the most enjoyable Die Hard film since the original.

It’s been twelve years since audiences last saw John McClane, and the passage of time hasn’t always treated him well. His reconciliation attempts with his wife failed, and their subsequent divorce left his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) embittered against her father. Now an NYPD detective working the graveyard shift, McClane is living a rather pedestrian life enlivened by arguments with his daughter over her choice of boyfriends. After receiving a call to pick up a computer hacker wanted by the FBI in connection with a security breach, McClane anticipates a rather quiet trip to D.C. to hand off his cargo. This being a Die Hard film, however, “quiet” is nowhere on the manifesto.

One home invasion and prolonged shootout later, McClane and hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) are on the run from a network of highly capable terrorists led by former cyberterrorism expert Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and his sexy partner Mai Lihn (Maggie Q). Their nefarious scheme involves shutting down the vast majority of the United States’ critical systems — banking, traffic, utilities — and holding the nation’s wealth as ransom, all achieved through the use of a converted semi-rig doubling as terrorist HQ and a seemingly unlimited supply of henchmen. As a plot device, this isn’t exactly realistic or original — especially since Live Free or Die Hard suffers from the Magic Computer syndrome, where traffic lights can be turned off with a few keystrokes and a single password is needed to reset the FBI’s computer system. But the effects of a large-scale computer crash mesh with the plot rather nicely, as McClane and Farrell constantly run into problems figuring out what the terrorists’ next moves are or getting that information to the police. It also has the tidy bonus of leaving McClane as the only one who can save the day: reluctant to get involved once more, but fully aware that there is no one else to do what is needed. His conversation with the surprisingly un-annoying Farrell about the responsibilities of a hero and the downsides that follow is something oft-lacking in many recent action movies. It brings a depth to McClane’s character that has been the staple of the Die Hard franchise, above the explosions and frequent gunplay for which these films are more commonly known.

In that note, fears over the film’s PG-13 rating are mostly unfounded: the language may not be as explicit as the earlier entries, but the violence is just as visceral as any other. It’s actually one of the more violent PG-13 movies this critic has seen; for every over-the-top, almost cartoonish chase scene there is a close-quarters combat that literally pulls no punches, leaving McClane bloodied and his opponents…well, dead. Director Len Wiseman proves surprisingly deft at handling Live Free or Die Hard‘s action sequences, foregoing the frenzied camerawork and jittery cuts that give so many modern audiences whiplash. He also keeps the tone of the previous films, with McClane spouting one-liners at the most inopportune moments and cackling with glee at the carnage and mayhem he just caused. But Wiseman unfortunately falls prey to that succubus of directors, the “No Urge to Purge” temptation that gives Live Free or Die Hard a running time of over two hours. There’s one nifty but ultimately extraneous scene involving a truck and an F-35 fighter jet that should have been left out of the film entirely (although fun to watch, it gives the movie its most unbelievable moments).

John McClane is a bit of an anachronism in today’s digital age, a Luddite more comfortable with his fists and his sidearm than using technology to stop terrorists. He’s older and wiser, less prone to the impetuousness of youth, yet his forthright approach to villainy is refreshing — in an era when everything is driven by computers, he’s one of the few who is both tenacious and capable enough to accomplish the impossible. Even as all of Washington, D.C. grinds to a halt, McClane is thinking two steps ahead; his actions alone must save the United States from a cyber holocaust. His relationship with tentative ally Farrell falls squarely within the bounds of buddy-cop movies, but Farrell is needed to point McClane in the right direction — and then get out of the way as a generation’s action hero does his thing. Live Free or Die Hard breaks no new ground for action films, and its plot stretches all credulity, but its straightforward earnestness and restrained style elevate it beyond its derivative origins. Here’s to hoping John McClane has a few more unlucky days to come.

B.

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2 Comments »

  1. courso said,

    Very good critisizm come check my site.
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  2. amuirin said,

    I stopped after the first paragraph, good enough for me. It just looks plain ol’ awesome on the previews. Putting off the rest of this read till after I see it.


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