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LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director:  Len Wiseman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  130 Minutes
Release Date:  November 20, 2007

“McClane, I thought I killed you already.”

“I get that a lot.”

Film ***1/2

John McClane is indeed an analog hero in a digital world.  For that reason, amongst others, seeing him back again after a lengthy hiatus is a terrific treat for action fans.  In an age that gives us plenty of CGI and the slickest of the slick in heroes, the ever-human McClane reminds us of what old fashioned action entertainment is all about.

Not that director Len Wiseman didn’t have a bit of computer generated help here and there, but better than any of that, he had the return of Bruce Willis in his star-making role.  McClane is a good cop who has found himself in deep waters so many times he could set up a post office box there.  He gets through with guts and determination rather than grace and style…a real man’s action hero.

In the years since we last saw John, he’s remained on the NYPD, he’s still divorced, but now he’s dealing with his estranged college-aged daughter Lucy (Winstead).  But family issues are only the start of his problems.  In a new and absolutely terrifying terrorist attack on the American infrastructure, a good agent turned bad Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant) is systematically shutting down the country’s transportation, communication and power systems.

It leads to the unlikely pairing of McClane with a young hacker Matthew Farrell (Long), and both are soon up to their eyebrows in danger, as they attempt to stay a step ahead of the ruthless Gabriel and prevent the end of western civilization.

The movie boasts a good plot and plenty of jaw-dropping stunts and action sequences, not the least of which is an all out traffic pileup in a tunnel and McClane’s battling with a martial arts expert (Maggie Q) up and down and all around a power plant control center.

Willis delivers his wisecracks like no other, but it’s his vulnerability that makes McClane a hero we can identify with.  He doesn’t always do it with flare, he doesn’t always escape harm’s way, but he never gives up.  And he knows what he believes in.

So what brought McClane out of mothballs and back into theatres?  Well, for one, he’s been battling terrorists a lot longer than Jack Bauer, and that makes him the perfect foil for them in our modern war on terror.  Second, the script was based on an article by John Carlin called “A Farewell to Arms” that suggested such a scenario as plays out in the film, and what the aftermath of such a devastating attack might be.

Neither Willis nor McClane are as young as they once were, but Bruce is still every bit as believable in action as ever.  His years actually make McClane a little more colorful and endearing…we know he feels the aches and pains more now than ever, and that makes his resilience all the more winning.

For my own part, I hope this isn’t the last we see of John McClane.  Action films need someone like him, and fans do too, if only to remind us that the best action is often tough, gritty, and reckless…not always smooth and streamlined.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Kevin Smith appears as another helpful hacker.

Video ****

A knockout!  Fox’s anamorphic transfer is sharp, crystal and stunning from top to bottom.  The copious amounts of action translate well; nothing gets lost in the mix.

Audio ****

You expect bang for your buck with a Die Hard movie, and you get it here.  The 5.1 audio is powerfully dynamic, and will rattle your breakables more than a few times.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and the smooth crossovers and ample use of the surrounds and .1 channel will keep you firmly rooted in the proceedings.

Features ****

This two disc set offers great things in the extras department.  For starters, you can choose the PG-13 theatrical release of the film, or the special unrated version (a few more F-bombs, a tad more violence).  The first disc also has a wonderful commentary track with Bruce Willis, Len Wiseman, and the editor, and they discuss the making of the film in detail.

The second disc has a TEN part documentary on the film that runs about an hour 40, plus a conversation with Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith, a music video, a trailer, and a Fox Legacy special.

Summary:

Live Free or Die Hard is a glorious, thrill-packed return to form for the franchise and one of the genre’s favorite stars and heroes.  Bruce Willis and John McClane are as inseparable as John McClane is to action.  Yippie ki yay!

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