Live Free or Die Hard

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Live Free or Die Hard
Review (8.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

In 1988, the cosmic forces of karma aligned and a modestly successful television actor and notorious Hollywood bad boy suddenly found himself catapulted into the ranks of superstardom. After a surprising impromptu marriage to Hollywood's sweetheart (yes, there actually was a time when Demi Moore was Hollywood's sweetheart), Bruce Willis followed up with the film that would transform him into a bona fide movie star - a little film called Die Hard.

Although he has experienced his fair share of career highs ("Pulp Fiction", "The Sixth Sense") and lows ("Mercury Rising", "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), since his star-making turn, Bruce Willis has been fairly resilient. While actors such as Kevin Costner and Sylvester Stallone have languished on the unemployment line following their film flops, Bruce Willis has managed to have a place to park his lunch pail every day after almost twenty years on the big screen. There is something to be said for that kind of staying power.

In the weeks leading up to the release of Live Free or Die Hard, I found myself sitting on the fence about whether I wanted to see this latest addition to Bruce Willis' film resume. I have to admit that watching Bruce Willis on screen is one of my guilty pleasures. Sure he is not classically handsome, but he is charismatic and wickedly humourous. But, would this film be one of his career highs or one of his career lows? Could he still entertain me for two hours, or would sitting through this movie be as torturous as Rocky 5?

Live Free or Die Hard is the latest installment in the Die Hard film series. Our hero, John McClane, is divorced and estranged from his children. When not conducting stakeouts of his daughter's dates, he is working as a detective with the New York City Police Department. His most recent assignment - to deliver a twenty-something computer hacker to the FBI for an interview - takes a dangerous turn when it becomes apparent that a group of homegrown terrorists, who are systematically throwing the United States into chaos, will stop at nothing to prevent the interview from happening.

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Live Free or Die Hard. I feared that this film would be an embarrassment for Bruce Willis - a last-ditch effort by a long-in-the-tooth actor to recapture his glory days as an action film star. What I discovered instead was probably one of the best popcorn flicks that I have seen this year. Live Free or Die Hard works because of a surprising combination of great action sequences, decent acting punctuated by some excellent on-screen chemistry and humourous screenwriting.

Live Free or Die Hard is directed by Len Wiseman, a former props assistant who worked his way up through the Hollywood food chain with some excellent art work on films such as "Godzilla", "Men in Black" and "Independence Day". After his work behind the camera filming television commercials and music videos garnered him some attention, he was able to get a green light to direct "Underworld", a fantasy film based upon a screenplay which he had written with his friends Danny McBride and Kevin Grevioux (the fact that his wife, Kate Beckinsale, was also attached to star probably did not hurt). Wiseman seems to have a knack for creating films which are nothing short of visually stunning, and Live Free or Die Hard thrives as a result of his expertise. The action sequences in this film are absolutely incredible - sure, some of the scenarios are very "un-credible", but if you are able to suspend your disbelief you are in for a very wild ride.

This film also works because of the chemistry and the banter between Bruce Willis and his young co-star, Justin Long. I appreciated the comedic irony of having Long, who some of you may recognize as the "Mac" half of the very clever "Mac vs. PC" television commercials for Apple computers, cast in the role of the socially inept computer hacker, Matt Farrell. Long played the perfect straight man to Willis' humourous but over-the-top John McClane. I am not yet convinced that Long has the ability to carry a film, but based upon his performance here, I see a promising future for him as a supporting actor.

If I had one complaint about this film, it would be the casting of Timothy Olyphant as the villain, Thomas Gabriel. More irritating than alarming, Olyphant failed to convince me that he was the diabolical sociopath that he was cast to play. I would far have preferred to see an actor such as Rudolf Martin ("Swordfish"), Dougray Scott ("Mission Impossible II") or Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Mission Impossible III") cast in the role of Thomas Gabriel - any of those actors would have been far more diabolical, and far more persuasive. Fortunately, Olyphant's lack of screen presence was balanced by the very persuasive (and incredibly agile) performance by Maggie Q, who did manage to bring a villainous edge to the film.

Live Free or Die Hard successfully executes what it sets out to accomplish - it is a thrilling, action-packed ride. It is a perfect choice for anyone who wants to check their disbelief at the door, grab a tub of popcorn and a vat of pop, and escape with a couple of hours of mind-numbing fantasy.

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