Saturday 23 February 2013
A Good Day To Die Hard
A Good Day To Die Hard
Directed by John Moore
Playing at cinemas now.
Okay. So there’s a lot of negative criticism about this fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise going around at the moment and all I can say, really, is that while I can well understand where all the backlash on this one is coming from, if you are one of those people who are okay with films which are non-stop action, then this really isn’t all that bad, just taking it in those terms.
I’ve also heard some comments that this doesn’t really feel like a Die Hard film and on that point I’d really have to disagree. It may not be a very good Die Hard film, I’d let you get away with that one, but it’s certainly got enough in common in terms of the main John McClane character, the way in which lead actor Bruce Willis chooses to play him and other elements in the periphery of the character, to provide adequate links to the tone of the preceding four movies. There’s also another strong binding force on this one, which helps the film glue together with the lead character’s previous outings... but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Unlike the first two films in the series (reviewed here) this movie is not based on anyone’s novel and whereas they got away with this approach fine with both the third Die Hard movie (my favourite in the sequence) and the fourth one, it has to be said that the script to this one doesn’t really seem to have a lot going for it, to be fair. In fact, there’s hardly any plot at all and I don’t think its really giving too many spoilers away to briefly summarise that plot here... bearing in mind all this stuff is shown in the trailers and promos for the film anyway.
John McClane goes to see his estranged son stand trial for an assassination in Russia, but it turns out his kid is actually a spy who is facing off against a terrorist threat and soon the McClanes find themselves patching up old differences and “bonding in action” as they wage back to back war against the fairly obvious “bad guys”, all punctuated by a number of bangs, whistles, staccato bursts of machine gun fire and loud explosions as man and machine alike are subject to large explosions and other, various amounts of “an American in Russia”-appropriate carnage.
It doesn’t help too much that the dialogue in the movie isn’t that sparkly either, to be honest. I guess it might be some tribute to the actors in question (all of whom were excellent and doing their best, I have to say) that the characters look like they’re just making up their dialogue as they go along, and it’s more true to life in terms of those kinds of considerations... but it’s possibly something less special when it looks like the actors in question actually are also probably just making up things as they go along too. Sometimes, naturalistic dialogue in the arts needs a little more push to keep it real.
However, there are some nice things about the movie too and some of the action sequences are quite exciting, if that’s your bag. The editing on these kinds of segments which, if I’m honest, make up almost all of the film’s running time, is pretty good in terms of modern day action editing... in the sense that you can at least make out what is actually going on in them without any jarring juxtapositions to jangle your brain cells. However, the downside to this is that there do seem to be a fair few continuity errors throughout the length of the movie which are quite glaring, actually... but at least you can watch them and pick holes in those fairly easily, without getting completely “lost in the edit”, I guess.
Another nice thing is the way the movie does, in fact, gel with the previous movies.
Back in my review of The Detective (right here) I highlighted the fact that the John McClane character originated from the character in this novel/film and that, once Sinatra had turned the sequel down, the character was renamed John McClane and the sequel novel was retooled for Bruce Willis... and here we are. Well, there’s a nice little tip of the hat to this in this fifth installment where a Russian taxi cab driver sings a Sinatra hit to Bruce Willis, so I quite enjoyed the irony of that little scene.
Also, this is the first time for a while that two Die Hard movies have had a running character other than John McClane played by the same person. The film features both McClane’s son and daughter (originally seen as kids in the first installment of the series) and in this one, the always excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead is back from her stint of playing his daughter, Lucy McClane, in the previous film in the series Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live free Or Die Hard). She’s not in it much but she bookends the film somewhat and thats kinda okay (even if the film does end on a 1970s TV freeze frame... oops).
The opening titles are nicely handled too, paying homage in the style of the typography, perhaps, to the late great graphic designer Saul Bass, although the words are way too small, I expect, to be easy for anyone to read them watching on a normal sized TV screen or monitor, which is the way these films tend to get remembered historically, once they’ve passed their original theatrical release.
One great thing, which I alluded to earlier and which keeps good continuity with the previous films, is Marco Beltrami’s excellent score. He also scored the last movie in the franchise because the guy who did such an outstanding job on the first three films, Michael Kamen, had died since scoring the third. Here, Beltrami not only brings back the influence of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to give it continuity with the first film (although the exact reason he’s brought back this particular piece of leitmotif is unclear as the characters it’s associated with are not in this movie) but he also gives a lot of this score a very Kamenesque sound, especially in the action cues which echo the previous composers specific kind of histrionics and it’s really great that Beltrami is happy to blend his own style with elements of Kamen’s distinctive musical voice so much. I don’t know, yet, whether this holds up as a stand alone listen away from the visuals and sound mix it often gets buried under in this entry, but in terms of playing out within the context of the movie and hitting the spot in terms of franchise recognition, Beltrami does a really good job on this one.
And there you have it. This movie isn’t going to win any awards, I suspect, and personally I can agree with what seems to be the general opinion on this one in that it’s certainly the worst in the franchise... but it still delivers most of the required thrills as an action piece so I’m cutting it some slack here. I also hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of this series either. I think a more restrained (in terms of over the top action) and tighter, cleverer script could see a real return to form for the series if the studio were willing to pump in some more time and talent to the project. Bruce Willis may be an awkward cuss to work with sometimes but he’s certainly a great performer and one of the few modern “stars” out there. Give him a decent screenplay and he’ll come up trumps. Meanwhile, if you like action movies and you’re a fan of the franchise in general, the links to the previous movies really aren’t all that tenuous and you may well find yourself having a good time with this one if you give it a go and you’ve got a couple of hours to waste at your local cinema. Maybe give this one a look sometime.