by HELEN GEIB
Live Free or Die Hard is a really fun movie. It’s a little over-long and I would have cut out the final, preposterous stunt sequence, but it’s the fun action movie of the summer. And doesn’t it have a great title? Catchy and a capsule summary. The title Live Free or Die Hard describes or suggests everything about the movie: clever; self-referential; and filled with chases, firefights, fistfights, explosions and witty banter.
The animating spirit of Live Free or Die Hard is a compulsive need to outdo what came before. So far, so typical for a contemporary would-be summer blockbuster, but Live Free is more focused and better constructed than is usual. The individual action set-pieces don’t just throw loud noises and flashing lights onto the screen. They’re skillfully constructed to move through the stages of suspenseful build-up, pulse-pounding action and welcome mental cool-down before the cycle starts back up again. The scope and intensity of the action escalate through the film so that each sequence raises the stakes of the last, but the film gives the audience a chance to catch its collective breath (and enjoy the witty banter) in between the chases, firefights etc.
Plot and characters tread familiar ground with a wink and a nod to an audience who knows these films and loves them for what they are. Sharing in the spirit of outdoing what came before, the plot puts the fate of – not just a high-rise, not just an airport, not just a city, but the fate of the entire country in our hero’s capable hands. Bruce Willis as John McClane saving the day has become the Die Hard formula. The film understands that and plays with it to fine comic effect.
Justin Long invests the sidekick character with great charm and is a more than capable foil for Willis. Long is given a lot of good dialogue and delivers it really well. Timothy Olyphant is quite good as the villain, and it wasn’t his fault the scriptwriters thought it necessary to explain his character as a government consultant who became embittered when he was publicly disavowed in retaliation for being a whistle blower. Because, you know, being an arrogant, amoral, greedy, raving psychopath just doesn’t cut it as sufficient motivation for an action movie antagonist these days.
Live Free or Die Hard is tremendously entertaining and very nearly a 4 star action movie. I docked a half-star for the pseudo-serious political commentary and because the movie’s a bit too long and because they just really shouldn’t have gone there with that plane.
3 1/2 stars