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Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - A Good Day To Die Hard

Directed by: John Moore

Produced by: Alex Young
Wyck Godfrey

Screenplay by: Skip Woods

Based on: Characters by Roderick Thorp

Starring: Bruce Willis
Jai Courtney
Sebastian Koch
Yuliya Snigir
Rasha Bukvic
Cole Hauser
Sergei Kolesnikov

Music by: Marco Beltrami

Cinematography by: Jonathan Sela

Editing by: Dan Zimmerman

Studio(s): Giant Pictures
TSG Entertainment

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): February 14, 2013 (United Kingdom and United States)

Running time: 97 minutes

Country: United States

Language(s): English

Production budget: $92 million

Box-office revenue: $304, 654, 182

This review is brought to you in collaboration with Depeche Mode (starting off with Shake The Disease - "understand me..."). Anywho, I've been keeping rather busy on this front, rattling through the pile I've got sitting at my house as part of my catch-up list. 2013, regardless of the quality of the material, or lack thereof, has been an interesting year that has seen a lot of bold, daring films. Even some of the worst films have had a feeling of ne plus ultra, filmmakers attempting to push the boundaries of the medium. So, for all the latest and greatest in movies (and a good few reviews over the next couple of weeks), keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is A Good Day To Die Hard, the fifth instalment in the Die Hard film series starring Bruce Willis in the role of John McClane. Directed by John Moore, the film was released at the start of 2013 to overwhelming critical derision, with the general consensus being that the film lacks any real characterisation and exists completely outside the realm of plausibility. Indeed, one of the very few positive reviews comes from my good friend over at Danland Movies, who has said to me on several occasions that he had a lot of fun with it. Now, for those of you who don't know, one of my two great weaknesses as a reviewer (along with schlocky horror films) is gratuitously violent action movies, of which I think the crop of those from the 1980s (First Blood: Part II, Commando etc.) are glorious pleasures. Among them are 1988's Die Hard, the difference being that Die Hard is to this day one of the greatest films ever made; it's script is watertight, directed with real craft and confidence by John McTiernan, terrifically shot by Jan de Bont and features one of the great everyman performances of cinema in Bruce Willis. Since then, three sequels were made of a varying quality. Renny Harlin's 1990 Die Hard 2 was quite clearly a case of jumping the gun on the back of a box-office success, and while decent, nowhere near the standard of the original, while the returning McTiernan's 1995 Die Hard: With A Vengeance I feel is a great action movie and far better than the reputation it gets. It was then over a decade before the franchise was revived by Len Wiseman with Die Hard 4.0, an outrageously over-the-top and absurdly fun film which was the inaugural winner of my Most Surprisingly Entertaining Film back in 2007. Six years later, we come to A Good Day To Die Hard: in this film, John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Russia (Hence the "Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia" tagline) after discovering that his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) is in prison. However, he is soon caught in the crossfire of a terrorist plot when he finds out his son is an undercover operative whole got his way into prison to get close to and protect political prisoner and whistleblower Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) from assassination and extradite him from the country. Got it? Good!

To start with the good (yes, there is good, so shush!), it's nice to see Bruce Willis back in the saddle as McClane. Though he's had a solid run the past few years, his biggest movies of late have been showing as part of big ensemble casts and showing up when he's best as the lead in a movie. As I mentioned, John McClane is part of the great tradition of the everyman, and this is no exception. Willis is as sardonic and cynical as ever; if anything, age seems to have made him come across every more so as a surly old man. Some of the one-liners McClane gets here are a real chuckle, and I think Willis also plays up a bit of parody, willing to be wholly self-deprecating for the sake of the overall picture. Some of the interactions between him and Jai Courtney, who is strong and grounded as his son Jack, often in the midst of heavy gunfire, are very entertaining. Also, like it's immediate predecessor, the action is outrageous in the highest order. The sheer amount of wanton destruction in the Moscow car chase is unlike anything you see these days, and the set-pieces in general border on the level of insanity. The stunts and choreography team have done a fine job here. Speaking of the action, it is shot with a fine eye for craft. Regular John Moore collaborators Jonathan Sela and Dan Zimmerman bring their trademarks to this film, giving the film a good look and a genuine sense of freneticism. Importantly though, and I've mentioned this before in relation to action movies, what Sela and Zimmerman do best for the movie is ensure we can see what is going on. Ever since the Bourne films, there's been this obsession of wobbly-cam to the point that you can't see what's going on, and this isn't the case here. Indeed, it's quite the opposite, cutting at the right points and ensuring that we are able to comprehend the sheer scale of how much chaos is going on onscreen. Finally, A Good Day To Die Hard is directed by John Moore, a guy who knows how to shoot a good genre film. While he has a mixed bag in his repertoire (I didn't like either his remake of The Omen or Max Payne, but am rather fond of Behind Enemy Lines), he is an auteur with a distinctive style who brings a real panache to the films he works on. Action-wise, they have real impact, and here is no exception.

Now, while there were things that I liked about A Good Day To Die Hard, unfortunately there are also a number of things that serious detracted from my overall enjoyment of the film. Most of these issues emerged from the script by Skip Woods. Woods has a mixed track record as a screenwriter, known primarily for scribing action films (Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The A-Team), and while some of them may have memorable set-pieces, they, like this film, will never be remembered for their characterisation. The villains in the movie may as well be cardboard cut-outs for all the purpose that they serve in the film, because there is absolutely nothing established that suggests to me I should in any way have any more emotive reaction them than half-scale paper target McClane shoots at the range at the beginning of the film. Oh wait, I forgot, we establish that the daughter of Komarov has sold her father out to the terrorists, because she, like Jack McClane, has daddy issues, oh how reflexive of you! Isn't there some sort of correlation between the relationships of fathers and their children, their broken homes and how it influences their respective decisions in their later lives, how highly astute! Given how the Die Hard series have been about keeping it all in the family in the past, what the McClane's, the brother's Gruber and what have you, this is over-simplistic twaddle aspiring to heights it will never reach. Speaking of heights, you've brought in Sebastian Koch, a terrific German actor who has starred in the likes of Black Book and The Lives Of Others, one of the top five films since the beginning of the 2000s, and you're going to give him a role which requires him to do nothing but sit on the fence and serve as a grotesque homage to the original film (I'll not say which one, because it involves plot spoilers), really? C'mon, son, as Ed Lover would say. Also, I'm not nitpicking, and though the score wasn't anything bad, I frankly switched off to Marco Beltrami's sounds here. I like and admire Beltrami very much, but his work here was just boring and did nothing for me.

I did think that A Good To Die Hard was a troublesome film at times. It suffers from a script hampered by a severe lack of character depth, any attempt at which is base in it's simplicity, the score does nothing for me, and the fact that they've brought Sebastian Koch for a nothing role is more or less indicative of what the movie does wrong. I wish I could like it more than I did, but it is a problematic picture. That said, it's still a decent action movie. Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney make a good father-son duo, their interactions clearly being the highlight of the movie, but it also has some terrific action sequences, particularly the Moscow car chase. The stunt team have really put themselves out there, and it is a well-shot and edited movie. Finally, although I feel that the wholly underrated John Moore needs to get involved in better movies, he lends this his trademark panache, and gives us a decent romp.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Laughing (my dog is sitting beside me and farted, giving me the least inconspicuous look as though to say "I didn't do that...")

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