LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of violence and action, language and a brief sexual situation)
Running Time: 2:10
Release Date: 6/27/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment of the Die Hard series, is very much a product of post-9/11 concerns. The previous entry Die Hard with a Vengeance 12 years ago focused on a mad-bomber destroying parts of New York City, and it's hard to imagine now that at one point that plot seemed only like fare for an action movie. The plot of the new movie doesn't put civilian lives in direct peril but still manages to up the ante. Here, cyber-terrorism is at play, and it makes for a really solid, troubling setup in an age when someone blowing up parts of a major city in the United States doesn't seem farfetched anymore. Indeed, once the main baddy's villainous scheme is set in motion, the movie gains an immediate sense of urgency. The concept of a single man with lots of hacker friends disrupting and halting the entire infrastructure of the United States is one of those ideas we'd like to think unlikely, but who knows? So it's a shame that the rest of the movie can't keep up with its truly cracker-jack premise, turning it into a series of action sequences that might sound imaginative but play just as ludicrously as they sound.
The movie opens with a confounding montage of people on their computers. Two of them are Matt Farrell (Justin Long) and Mai (Maggie Q), the former having programmed something for the latter. Anyway, one of the other kids talking with Mai is blown to smithereens by his computer, which was rigged with C4. Meanwhile, the FBI's cyber security department, headed by Agent Bowman (Cliff Curtis), is hacked, and Bowman wants infamous hackers brought in for questioning. This is where John McClane (Bruce Willis) fits in. He's just fought with his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, just right), who wants nothing to do with daddy, when he gets a call on the radio. McClane needs to grab Matt and escort him to Washington, D.C. for questioning. Matt's computer is also rigged with explosives, but when the not-so-subtle approach doesn't work, the thugs who rigged it take the even more not-so-subtle approach and get into a firefight with McClane. After, McClane gets Matt to D.C., where things have gotten a lot worse this Fourth of July weekend. Transportation across the country has been interrupted (in Chicago, that's called a "workday"), the stock market has crashed, and Matt thinks this is only the beginning.
The plan is the work of Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and involves a "fire sale," which is essentially shutting down the transportation, financial system, and utilities of the country. One of the hallmarks of the Die Hard franchise is its villains, primarily due in part to Alan Rickman's performance in the original film, which basically defined the concept of a modern action movie villain. Gabriel is the kind of man who is calm, collected, cool during whatever he is doing, and his position as a former employee of the Department of Defense gives his character a political edge that seems timely and relevant. Timothy Olyphant is fine in the role—his coldness almost inherently threatening. On the other hand is Justin Long as Matt; Long is not given much to do beyond being the sarcastic antithesis to McClane—cracking jokes of disbelief at McClane's handiwork. Therein lies the problem. John McClane has always been an ordinary guy stuck in extraordinary circumstances, yet in this movie, he's almost to the level of a superhero, sensing a keen understanding of his environment and being able to do physically improbable things—even when seriously injured.
He manages in this movie to take out a small group of assassins trying to kill Matt using a variety of objects, including a fire extinguisher, a car, a gate attached to said car, and a conveniently placed dumpster. He potentially meets his match, though, in Mai, a martial arts expert who lays into him quite well, but once again, McClane has the ability to turn things around. In a way that I will leave you to discover for yourself, the fight ends up with the two in an SUV dangling from an elevator shaft. There's a reason this is Bruce Willis' iconic role. Willis has an Everyman quality, which makes us want to like this guy no matter what he does. There's a scene between McClane and Matt in the car where he reveals why he takes on the hero role and what it has gotten him that sums it up nicely. His personal drama this time around is his troubled relationship with his daughter. Eventually, of course, the terrorist threat becomes personal as Gabriel kidnaps Lucy, which only expands McClane's preternatural abilities. He takes out a helicopter with a car (because he ran out of bullets) and eventually takes on a fighter jet in the climax.
Director Len Wiseman choreographs these sequences well, but they nonetheless take us out of action with their spectacle. The movie does a lot of things right—bringing McClane into a post-9/11 world, setting up a plot that is far-fetched yet plausible and sometimes frightening. Live Free or Die Hard pushes some it too far with the character, though. After all John McClane wears a badge, not a cape.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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