Live Free Or Die Hard: John McClane Is Danny Ocean With Guns!

Live Free or Die Hard Movie ReviewJohn McClane is back and he’s still not terribly thrilled about it. In the best action flick of the summer, McClane is stuck with trying to prevent a fire sale – a systematic shut down of transportation, finances and utilities – nationwide! All he has for help is a scared computer geek who inadvertently supplied the villains with a piece of code that makes accessing a key location possible. And you thought you were having a bad day…! 

The FBI’s cyber-security system is breached, all the hackers with sufficient expertise are ordered brought in. Several of them get blown up by C4 linked to a virus implanted in their computers – but Matt Farrell [Justin Long] survives both the bomb and a well-armed team of assassins because the senior detective assigned to fetch him just happens to be NYPD’s John McClane [Bruce Willis].

Live Free or Die Hard takes about a minute-and-a-half to set the scene with Farrell delivering a piece of code to Mai Lihn [Maggie Q], the FBI breach and the deaths of all the hackers but Farrell – plus there’s a moment to reacquaint us with McClane as he yanks his daughter’s date out of his car, and thoroughly ticks Lucy [Mary Elizabeth Winstead] off. Another day, another ticked off woman. John McClane is in da house!

When all the traffic lights go green as McClane attempts to get Farrell to DC and the kid begins to think there’s something really wrong – but he’s too busy shaking from fear to articulate it. When the two finally reach DC, and Farrell sees the photos of the dead hacker on a wall, McClane can tell he knows who they are [were]. And then begins the real fun…

Live Free or Die Hard - Bruce Willis

The villain of the piece, Thomas Gabriel [Timothy Olyphant], was the NSA’s top programmer – and when they refused to act on his recommendation that the country’s cyber security be significantly strengthened, he tried to go public. The government shut him down and humiliated him, so he’s out to prove they’re idiots while making a few billion in cash for himself [everyone should be paid for their work, right?]…

Gabriel is aided by the abovementioned Mai Lihn and both a crew of computer wizards and a group of professional hired guns. With the ability to shut down transportation, finance and utilities, it would seem that no one can possibly stop Gabriel – especially an aging cop who would really rather be somewhere else, not to mention a computer geek whose sole experience with violence comes from computer games…

For the second time this summer, we have a hero who is pulled into something despite wanting to be elsewhere – and is described in analog versus digital terms. Here, Gabriel refers to McClane as “a Timex watch in a digital age.” Director Len Wiseman – best known for hit Underworld movies – adheres to this throughout. Most of the stunts and fights are as analog as you can get – and when CG are involved they are used to enhance [not overshadow] the analog effects. The result is that the movie, despite its increasing absurdity, is always grounded in a tactile reality that enables the audience to buy into the logarithmically increasing mayhem.

Live Free or Die Hard - Killing a Chopper With a Car

Of course, when you make an action flick that gets this big, you need a cast that will make the thing believable. Bruce Willis and Justin Long excel in that kind of environment – Willis with McClane’s world weary “here we go again, dammit!” acceptance of the crap he has to put with; Long in Farrell’s recognition of what makes McClane “that guy,” and his desire to not screw up and/or die.

Olyphant doesn’t radiate much menace as Gabriel, but that might be because [personal financial gain aside] he’s convinced that what he’s doing is in the country’s best interests. With very few scenes, we also buy into his caring for Mai – and his rage when she is endangered. Winstead is just right as Lucy Gennaro/McClane [and there’s a reason I list her that way…] – feisty and independent, even after Gabriel kidnaps her. Kevin Smith delivers a solid performance as Freddie/Warlock, a hacker whom Farrell and McClane draft into their efforts much against his will.

The stunts are exceptional – that gag with the car and the helicopter? Not CG. The fights are amazing not because they’re spectacular [they aren’t – except for the ones with Maggie Q], but because they’re real – every one of their looks like it hurt! When CG is involved in any major way – as in the jet/semi sequence – they are used to enhance the duel, not make us gasp, “WOW! Cool effects!”

Wiseman definitely knows how to stage an action flick. His pacing is such that we get just enough breaks to keep from hyperventilating – the film’s one hundred and thirty minutes [pretty short for an action movie, this summer] zip by before we know it. There’s no need for a cold cola while watching this one – the film will provide all the adrenaline you need!

Final Grade: A-

EM Review by Sheldon Wiebe

Originally Posted 06/27/07

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