Friday, March 29, 2013

Live Free or Die Hard - Dir. Len Wiseman (The Die Hard Project #4 - JK)

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Director - Len Wiseman

Post 9/11 America Writ Large 
Jack Knorps

The Die Hard films have always held a special place in my heart because Die Hard with a Vengeance was the first R-rated film that I saw in the movie theater.  I would say that though the film technically qualifies for an R-rating, there is nothing so objectionable about it that should worry parents.  Of course there is gun violence, but Live Free or Die Hard is every bit as violent as its predecessor and only earns a PG-13 rating.  So this movie is okay for teens but the last one was not.  If anyone wants to write an essay about the irrationality of the MPAA, then a comparison of these two films and the stated reasons for their ratings will provide a good case study.

I saw Die Hard with a Vengeance when I was 12 and I saw Live Free or Die Hard when I was 24--both in the movie theater.  You see I loved Die Hard with a Vengeance, so I was very excited when a sequel was announced after such a long "quiet" period.  I had never even seen the first two Die Hards.  Later I would move to Los Angeles and watch Die Hard from a small apartment in Silver Lake,  during a time when I would often travel to the Nakatomi Plaza location (Century City) for job interviews.  That film was ahead of its time in 1988 (except perhaps for the reference to "poison pills"--those were soooooo 1985), and its sequel was "with the times" in 1990, and Die Hard with a Vengeance was also current with populist American sentiment in 1995.  The five-year wait for that film seemed long, but the 12 year wait for this one seemed to signal a break in tradition.  Now with a six-year gap for A Good Day to Die Hard, the franchise seems to have a questionable boom-and-bust cycle.

But Live Free or Die Hard is no bust--in fact, I was trying to rank the films on my own, and it is near the top.

#1: Die Hard with a Vengeance
#2: Die Hard
#3: Live Free or Die Hard 
#4: Die Harder
#5: A Good Day to Die Hard (?)

I leave the question mark because I've yet to see it, but yes, it was hard for me to choose between this film and the original as the second-best film in the series--but it cannot touch Vengeance.

Die Hard wins out in second-place because of Alan Rickman's performance, the originality of the film at the time, and the excellent use of Christmas music.  Timothy Olyphant is passable as this film's villain, but ultimately cannot stand in the shoes of Rickman or Jeremy Irons--who deserves to be named one of the top five villains in the history of cinema for his performance in that film.

My colleague Mr. Maronde pointedly argued that Die Hard with a Vengeance is a beautiful film because it is an ode to New York City at the height of its 1990s splendor.  Live Free or Die Hard is a reaction to 9/11, and certainly some of the images of this film are so strong that it easily lands in 3-star territory (you must admit that the "hoax" in this film--which could be a clever commentary on the Separation of Powers and the ultimate wielder of governmental authority in America--had you fooled the first time, too).  Olyphant plays a nerdy former government contractor in homeland security.  He conducts a "fire sale" (I will not define the term) and the scale of this endeavor is also what takes the movie to 3-star territory: this is certainly the most audacious act of terrorism that the Die Hard movies have portrayed yet.

The Die Hard films always seem to have thieves posing as terrorists--and this one is no different, except you have thieves posing as "potential" terrorists--Olyphant believes his actions are justified because he is showing the government what it did not want to know--that the entire domestic infrastructure could be hacked, creating real chaos.

John McClane is, for some reason, hanging out in a college parking lot, spying on his daughter making out with another dude.  His daughter is Lucy Gennaro (not McClane) and her parents have divorced since the last film (or were they already divorced in 1995?  I can't be sure...).  He's still a cop for the NYPD but certainly appears to be approaching retirement.  He gets a random phone call after scaring his daughter's boyfriend and is told to go pick up a college kid played by Justin Long.

Justin Long may be controversial (a very funny moment of this film shows him with a very high-tech cell phone in 2007--it flips so you can text!) for his work in Apple commercials, but he won me over with this movie.  I always found him to be an annoying hipster-ish persona--the perfect image of a Mac User--but he does not act like such a smartypants in this movie.  Oh there is a moment where he explains why he doesn't listen to the news and he makes fun of what Bruce Willis likes to listen to on the radio, but he is quickly brought back to planet Earth as he is nearly killed a dozen or more times.

In terms of "sidekicks," Al is the best sidekick John McClane has (Samuel L. Jackson is #2, and probably the only problem with Die Hard with a Vengeance is that their "buddy-buddy" quality is, at times, feigned or uneven), and Justin Long is passable.  In general this is a very "passable" film, but politically it is the most interesting.

It beautifully depicts the paranoia of the post-9/11 world and (I really believe) is prophetic.  This film was released in May 2007.  In other words, it was released right at the time the markets were about to go bust, and the "thieves" in this film certainly have an analogue in the real life robber barons on Wall Street.  One is intrigued by the prospect of A Good Day to Die Hard (terrible reviews notwithstanding) as each film tends to react towards recent domestic trends in politics (Die Hard = corporate raiding; Die Harder = ?; Die Hard with a Vengeance = racism; Live Free or Die Hard = e-terrorism/Anonymous-style hackery; A Good Day to Die Hard = ? (economic desperation?)).

Len Wiseman does not have a vision quite like John McTiernan (who directed the two best films in the series) but he made a movie that was fun to go see in the movie theater.  I had about as much fun seeing this PG-13 movie as I did that R-rated movie some twelve years earlier.

And the Kevin Smith cameo is priceless.  Anytime you have Bruce Willis checking out a poster and Kevin Smith asking him, "You a fan of the Fett?" you have automatically made a good movie.

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