I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, butDie Hardis a perfect movie.

Seriously, perfect. From almost every angle. Writing-wise, it’s a textbook marvel of how to write. Cinematically, it’s perfectly shot. Acting wise, it’s pitch perfect.

Let me show you what I mean. At least writing-wise. I’m not sure I’m good enough to do this for cinematography, but I may give it a shot later on. I started writing this expecting to go over everything I mentioned, but I may not be able to. There’s a LOT to cover in one topic alone.

And obviously, spoiler alert.

Quotable Quotes

We all know that the dialogue is brilliant. IfDie Hardis not the most quoted and quotable film out there, it’s probably in the top ten list. Tell me you can’t see the exact moment, or fill in the blanks of all of the following…

In German: "Karl, schiess dem Fenster."

"…. and father of five."

"Happy Trails _____"

"Boom! Two points!"

"I’m going to count to three. ________ there will not be a four."

"Rumor is that Arafat buys his there."

"What kind of _____ are you?" "Who said we were ______?"

"No Relation."

"We’re going to need some more FBI guys."

"I don’t want ______ I want dead."


"That man looks ________." "He’s alive. Only John _________"

And, of course, "Yippie Kay Yay, _________"

We all know that. However, what I mean is how well the Gun in Act One is utilized. Don’t know what I mean? It’s also called Chekov’s Gun.

Chekov’s Gun

Basically, if you’re going to fire a gun in act three, you show the gun in act one. Conversely, if you show the gun in act one, you better follow up on it in act three. It’s a basic plot point, and basic setting up said point. You take an item you show early on, and you whip it out as a plot point in the last round.

Agatha Christie did it a lot —showing you something constantly, and revealing that it’s of dire importance to the solution of the mystery.

In the case ofDie Hard, small, little things impact the plot all over the place. Everything from the cocaine problems of Gary Ellis to a simple stupid Rolex watch. Don’t believe me? Let’s review a few things.

If you remember the story, NYPD officer John McClane heads over to LA to visit his separated wife Holly for Christmas at her place of business. Using the computer that runs the building, he has discovered that his wife is going by her maiden name. He also finds that she has a sleezy suitor, Gary Ellis — Ellis has a bit of a drug problem, and is lusting after Holly. Then terrorists take over the building.

And every single sentence of that paragraph is integral to the plot.

Obviously, the terrorists and McClane heading over to LAarethe plot, but everything else feeds into it.

Holly using her maiden name seems like a petty relationship problem, but using her maiden name keeps her alive, even after the terrorists find out who McClane is. In a fit of frustration, early in the film, Holly slams down her family photo … which is a good thing, because the leader Hans takes over her office, and doesn’t realize who she is until the last act.

The fact that the computer runs the building is the only way that the terroristscantake total control over an entire skyscraper.

Ellis’ drug problem escalates as the movie goes on, making him take a risky chance with Hans that will cost him his life … but at the same time, his desire for Holly keeps him from turning her over, and Ellis even makes it a point to stress that he didn’t give Holly up. Before the terrorist takeover, Ellis shows off that he gave Holly a Rolex … which became the second-to-last "gun" fired in the entire movie. If you remember the film, you might remember that Ellis’ watch kills Hans, and saves the day.

If you don’t remember how the watch saves the day, that’s one thing I’m NOT going to spoil.

Dialogue, Character, and Plot

Every line in the movie adds to the film. Nothing is wasted. And if there is something, I can’t see it. Yes, there’s a reason I’m not breaking this up, mainly the dialogue feeds into both the character and the plot … and because character adds an extra dynamic to this plot.

The first scene alone does so much, it’s stupid. Remember, the scene is John McClane talking to the passenger next to him on an airplane. It gives him a reason to be shoeless during the movie, and establishes his profession, and is already adding to his character by both giving us his CV in a smooth, effortless way. It establishes his anxiety about flying, giving him a cute character trait. Also, it already shows us just how much of a smartass he can be… McClane’s shoeless wardrobe "choice" in the film leads into a brilliant, brilliant moment that deeply hurts him later on.

We’ve already covered how the Rolex adds to the plot, and that was all covered in three lines of dialogue — it both underscores Ellis’ pursuit of Holly, struts it before John McClane, and dangles this metaphorical gun in front of the audience’s face without anyone realizing how integral ANY of it actually is. Ellis, who has few lines in the movie, serves many functions. One, his presence gives a counterpoint to McClane’s actions throughout the film — no matter how many gunman McClane takes out, he’s still only one person. Ellis is one of the many realists in this film, but the only one who is among the hostages.

Ellis’ strutting egomania, his coke problem, and his focus on Holly all culminates in the pinnacle of his arc. His egomania and his drug problem drive him to try and negotiate with Hans and company — he thinks he can talk them down, give them what they want, and they can all go home. And while he gives them McClane’s name and occupation, Ellis makes it a point to spin the story thathebrought McClane to the party, and there is no mention of Holly. For such a minor character, Ellis provides a lot…. even though giving up John’s name will eventually lead to Holly. And his death is one of the few things that hurts McClane.

And that’s a secondary character. Maybe even tertiary.

Dialogue establishes a lot in this movie. It establishes Mr. Takagi’s character and backstory with Hans’ first speech, and adds an emotional blow to Takagi’s death. The offhand lines about needing the FBI, and "it’s all part of the plan" feed into the turning point of the film, and a mystery that is on par with any twist byMission: Impossible,Leverage, or Jeffery Deaver. In fact, I would say that Deaver was warped byDie Hard.

A lot of things in the second half of this movie are almost perfect mirrors to stuff from the first half. The conversation between John and Holly in (what I think is) her private bathroom leads directly to a conversation that is the turning point of the film… which is also in a bathroom. McClane is at his lowest point. He’s been wounded physically and emotionally. It’s the flip side of the earlier conversation with Holly, and while it’s depressing, it has a point, and also accomplishes much. McClane’s relationship with the LAPD Sgt. Powell, outside of the building comes to a head, and it leads directly to the punchline.

Dialogue, and the Little Touches

And there are aspects that are not major, massive plot points, but are little things. It was Michelangelo, I think, who said that trifles make perfection, and that perfection is no trifle. In the case ofDie Hard, it’s the small things that add a surprising amount of character to people who serve some very basic functions.

Heck, just look at the character shown in Hans’ merry band of killers, and the LAPD, who are most assuredly the most basic part of this endeavor.

For example, look at "Karl." He’s the Bond Villain sidekick of this film. But the first time we see him is carrying a chain saw, about to cut the phone cables for the building…and he’s competing against another gunman, who’s trying to either bypass the alarm for the building, or cut the phone system via a more elegant, less brutal fashion, I could never tell. But you could tell from that scene alone that the two gunman arebrothers, and that the death of the youngerbrother by McClane (the first gunman he kills), drives Karl throughout the film, giving him solid reasons for actions that are detrimental to Hans and his plans.

Then there’s the terrorist who sets up shop in a confection stand, bringing out piles upon piles of gun magazines …. and grabs a candy bar.

Then there’s Theo, the Hacker. Who gambles, likes sports and sports analogies, and takes his computer job seriously, yet treats everything else with a sense of levity. He’s dour and serious about breaking into the computer and the building’s vault, but cracks jokes as he coordinates the gunmen to shoot and blow up a bunch of cops.

And then there’s the chauffeur, Argyle, whose presence in the film is almost comic relief — whether we’re laughing at his obliviousness to the situation, or his line to the stuffed animal to "shut up," and even his little victory over Hans’ hacker.


Obviously, I can go on forever about this movie (as though I haven’t already), but let’s face it, it’s a good film with lots of little things thrown in that make it a great movie. Notice, there are a whole bunch of things Ididn’tmention that are also writing moments.

Such as?

Hans and McClane, face to face, giving the audience a much-needed confrontation between hero and enemy…

Enough C4 to Orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger…"Heinrich had the detonators"… all feed into the finale…

Why Hans is possibly the most quotable movie villainever. He’s cultured, he’s educated, he’s well dressed, he reads all the "right" magazines, and he’s such a cold-blooded, callous murderer…

HowDie Hardalso has elements of parody, going after both the media and the FBI.

There’s a lot here, but this article is almost two thousand words long already. Though I think there’s no denying thatDie Hardcould be used to teach writing classes.

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