A Good Day to Die Hard
2013, 97mins, 12
Director: John Moore
Writer: Skip Woods
Cast includes: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvic, Cole Hauser
UK Release Date: 14th February 2013
1988’s “Die Hard” stands tall as one of the greatest American action films of all time, a magnificent feature primed with a lean premise, great characters and several legendary set-pieces. Its impact on the genre is tangible to this day, and it made a star out of a then unknown Bruce Willis. The sequels have been of varying quality but are still a must see. The great thing being that you could almost certainly stream the older films online or simply rent them from an online rental provider. The latest “A Good Day to Die Hard” taking the action out of the USA, and placing super-cop John McClane in Russia. The change of scenery doesn’t really jazz up the formula much, nor indeed does the join the dots screenplay courtesy of Skip Woods (“The A-Team”), but assured direction from John Moore (“Max Payne”) and a chirpy chemistry between leads Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney (playing John’s son Jack) allow this fifth entry to flourish as a satisfactory popcorn detour. It’s not sophisticated and lacks any of the innovation which characterised the classic ’88 endeavour, but “A Good Day to Die Hard” is so slickly entertaining and confidently pieced together that its inferiority to the original very quickly becomes a mild concern.
Concerned about the whereabouts of his AWOL son Jack (Jai Courtney), John McClane (Bruce Willis) locates the boy in Russia and makes it his business to bring him home. Upon arrival John learns Jack has become embroiled in the prosecution of political prisoner Komarov (Sebastian Koch), it later transpiring that the lad is a CIA spook tasked with getting Komarov out of Russia alive so he might testify against corrupt bureaucrat Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). Opting to help Jack on his mission, John soon sees a simple extraction plan go south, with Chagarin’s forces, including Komarov’s deceitful daughter (Yuliya Snigir), violently attempting to halt them at every turn.
John Moore is a much underrated director in Hollywood, often written off as a journeyman of no remarkable worth, the film-maker has actually delivered some quality fare over his short career. Moore’s 2001 debut “Behind Enemy Lines” remains an effective actioner, but gambits like the superior 2006 remake of “The Omen” and his beautifully photographed noir nightmare “Max Payne” were unfairly disregarded by journalists keen on labelling the Irishman a hack. His work on “A Good Day to Die Hard” confirms Moore as a genre director of skill and visceral dexterity, one only has to look at the frantic and compellingly stitched together car chase in the first third of this picture to understand his gifts. No, he’s not a man particularly blessed in the region of complex character development or dynamic narrative structure, but boy howdy, does he know how to shoot vehicles colliding into each other. All of the action in “A Good Day to Die Hard” is excellently realised, even if it exists on a plain of super-reality distantly removed from the grounded beats of McClane’s first outing. There’s not much point in complaining that these movies now extend suspension of disbelief to extremes, that’s just the direction this franchise has taken, for better or worse. You only have to look at its equally ludicrous 2007 predecessor “Die Hard 4.0” for further evidence of this indisputable fact.
It’s probably correct to assess this isn’t Willis’ most magnetic turn as McClane, but he gets the job done efficiently. His performance here is probably on a par with the McClane sighted in “Die Hard 4.0”, but this time his sidekick is spikier. Jai Courtney is good value as Jack, concocting an edgy yet enjoyable rapport with Willis, who frankly looks happy to have another soldier with whom to share the heroic mantle. Courtney is charismatic and physically imposing, continuing on from the stoic shift he displayed in “Jack Reacher”; broadening his range ever so slightly with his capably snarky turn here. The duo make for an affable set of protagonists, which is convenient, as “A Good Day to Die Hard” lacks a concrete menace. The screenplay doesn’t even attempt to build a nemesis in the legendary Hans Gruber mould, instead opting to use betrayals, vile politics and weirdo henchmen for the majority of its evil firepower. As the chief heavy Radivoje Bukvic is appropriately left of field, though potentially a bit soft. More striking is the work of Sebastian Koch, who floats through the adventure mysteriously, never quite committing to which side of the conflict he belongs.
Skip Woods isn’t a writer with a promising oeuvre. His most recent forays “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The A-Team” were passable hunks of junk redeemed by lively casting; they certainly weren’t showpieces of screenwriting craft. His script for “A Good Day to Die Hard” is still pretty conventional and relies on the action and thespians for the majority of its triumphs, albeit there’s a little more identity and ambition evident here than with his previous work. The emotional moments between the McClane clan are hit and miss (the final shot laughable, although Moore is probably as much to blame for that), but the functional story propels itself forward with welcome degrees of momentum. Again Moore and his editor might be more deserving of the credit on that front, but given how jittery some of Woods’ other attempts at storytelling have been, I’m going to give him mild props for “A Good Day to Die Hard”. McClane gets the best lines, several of which are quite funny, but an additional dialogue polish from another scribe wouldn’t have gone amiss. Some of the expository speech in “A Good Day to Die Hard” is pretty limp, even if the father/son bantering generally finds its mark.
The picture looks very pleasing, Moore and his cinematographer Jonathan Sela continuing their pattern of making attractive images together. At no point is “A Good Day to Die Hard” dull, and for my money that’s all that matters. It isn’t a revelatory or genre defining work like the first entry in this now storied series, but it delivers the adrenaline-pumping goods with explosive aplomb. A work of intense cinematic mastery “A Good Day to Die Hard” is not, but this fifth instalment is still much more gratifying than it has any right to be. Ignore the probable critical backlash and give it a chance.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013