2000s, 3.5/4, Action, Len Wiseman, Review

Live Free or Die Hard


#1 in my ranking of the Die Hard franchise.

Unpopular movie opinion: Live Free or Die Hard is the best Die Hard movie. It’s the only one that makes a series attempt at a thematic point. It’s not about some deep relationship between the viewer and the world, or even the viewer and movies, but about the change in the nature of action in action movies over the decades since the original Die Hard. It also has the best villain since Hans Gruber going for it.

Some hackers have delivered code to a shadowy organization and then started getting killed off one by one. John McClane, for slightly unclear reasons, is sent to New Jersey to pick up Matt Farrell, one of the hackers on the FBI’s list, for questioning. So begins John McClane’s next foray into combatting terrorism and thievery, and I think it’s the smartest of his adventures. It really begins with the introduction to Farrell for McClane. It’s pretty typical generational stuff with the old man who doesn’t get all the young person stuff that Farrell spouts out of his smart mouth. That’s not the interesting part. What quickly manifests is the fight that breaks out between the terrorists out to kill Farrell and McClane.

As Thomas Gabriel says later in the film, McLane is a “Timex watch in a digital age.” He’s outmoded, and that extends into a meta commentary about the nature of action movies. McClane is a punch and shoot type of action hero. He doesn’t do acrobatics, but in the 2000s, that’s the sort of thing that was dominating action movies thanks to things like The Matrix, parkour, and some French imports. This wasn’t the age for John McClane’s brand of action, and yet here he is in a film in that time period. Do the filmmakers treat it as a throwback to another time? No, they bring the creaky old McClane into that era and have him fight that era itself. The French unit sent by Gabriel has a freerunner who uses motion to get where he needs to go, and McClane needs to figure out how to deal with it.

The visual nature of the conflict is at its height, though, during the chase through D.C. McClane has taken Farrell to the FBI who then redirect them to the NSA for questioning. As they progress through the city, Gabriel sends his helicopter of French mercenaries after John and Farrell in the car below. So, it’s McClane, using tools he can only access from the ground, fighting the representation of the new style of action movies that use a helicopter and never come to the ground. McClane uses the car to overturn a fire hydrant that shoots water into the sky, knocking one of the mercenaries out of the helicopter. At the end of the chase, McClane uses the actual car to take the helicopter out of the sky. He’s using the tools on the ground to take out the new antagonists in the sky. I love that.

The other major thing that I love about this movie is Timothy Olyphant as Thomas Gabriel. Gabriel is a really good bad guy. He’s got a strong motive. He warned the Joint Cheifs of America’s openness to attack on the digital front, they destroyed him for it when he tried to go around their backs. So, he’s there to make his point (with promises that he could fix everything that he broke), but also to enrich himself, all stemming from his sense of bruised ego, actual harm, and sense of righteous anger. On top of that, the way Olyphant plays him is great. Gabriel is completely in control, reminiscent of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, and alternatively sardonic and threatening when those around him screw up.

I really like the rest of the cast. Bruce Willis is somewhere between trying and giving up, but he still manages to make the role work. Justin Long is fine as Farrell. It’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane that stands out for me. She’s strong and pig headed, just like her father, and when she gets re-introduced late in the movie, the way she fights back against Gabriel instead of playing the helpless victim is great.

The action is well filmed and actually carries a point beyond the mayhem. The acting is quite good, especially from Winstead and Olyphant. The antagonist has very solid motivations and his plan is both large scale and understandable (if, like most movies about computers, it overstates what computers can do). This really is the most complete package of a Die Hard film.

Rating: 3.5/4


8 thoughts on “Live Free or Die Hard”

  1. I also really enjoyed this film. I remember commenting positively on it on a movie board, and the people who didn’t like it said “It’s not really a Die Hard movie without the cigarettes and the swearing.”

    Um…okay then.


    1. It’s a weird categorization impulse on people’s parts. You see it with The Dark Knight trilogy, in particular with The Dark Knight Rises. “It’s a Bruce Wayne movie, not a Batman movie,” as though it’s some important insight into the movie’s qualities.

      John McClane could go to space, for all I care. Just make it good.

      Russia, though, ended up being a mistake.


  2. Thomas Gabriel, soon to be raylan givens was like general hummel, not a two dimensional cut out like the grubers or colonel stuart, even though they had the villainous touches necessarily,
    kevin smith, took up too much of the film.


    1. Smith is in something like 7-10 minutes of the film. I don’t think he’s in too much of it.

      But yeah, Gabriel is awesome, played great by Olyphant, and is awesome. I mean, he’s awesome.


  3. I like the first more than you, that’s my favorite of the series, but this would be second. I think the interplay between tough guy Willis and nerdy Jason Long makes this work. The action at the end does get a little over the top. I suppose the thinking is to have the movie go out with bang, maybe less of a bang would be better. Otherwise, everything was good.

    I haven’t seen the final movie in the series, that really got killed by the critics when it was released. If you are reviewing that one, well, thanks for doing it for the rest of us.


    1. Most people like the first one more than me. I’m the odd duck on that one, and that’s okay.

      The fifth movie has been watched and reviewed. Goes up tomorrow.

      Preview: Just…ugh.


  4. You’ve finally pinned down the reason why I like this movie so much even though I don’t want to.

    The first three “Die Hard” plots respectively were:

    1. “John McClane fighting terrorists while stuck in a building”
    2. “John McClane fighting terrorists while stuck in an airport”
    3. “John McClane fighting terrorists while stuck with Samuel L. Jackson”

    To it they added:

    4. “John McClane fighting terrorists while stuck in a Michael Bay movie”

    It’s so ridiculous, and John McClane does everything short of break the fourth wall to remind us.

    Most movies get high on their own supply if they have to stretch it out to a fourth installment. “Die Hard” took a steamer on every other action movie instead.

    (Also, Kevin Smith was important to the movie. According to his book “Tough Sh*t,” not only did he play the guy who has to explain WTF is going on, since the script was still in flux at the time, he did an uncredited rewrite to make that scene make sense. (He also explains what it’s like to work with Bruce Willis. Spoiler: not great.))


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