The first shot of John McClane in Die Hard is his left hand digging into the armrest as his plane lands at LAX. We can see he’s wearing a wedding band on his ring finger. His seatmate then gives him an unusual piece of advice about surviving air travel: once he settles in, he should take off his socks and shoes and make fists with his toes on the rug. Then he reaches up to the overhead bin, revealing a holstered gun dangling from his midsection.
All of this is mundane stuff. It’s also a prime example of why Die Hard remains the greatest American action movie since it was released 30 years ago this week.
Everything - Director - John - McTiernan - Screenwriters
Consider everything that the director, John McTiernan, and his screenwriters, Jeb Stuart and Steven E de Souza, set up in this brief little scene. Though Bruce Willis plays McClane as the modern American cowboy, Roy Rogers with an attitude, the film-makers choose to emphasize his vulnerability first. His fear of flying gets us primed for the bumps and bruises he will sustain all night long, when a phalanx of terrorists take over a Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza. McClane’s most important quality isn’t his toughness, but his flesh-and-blood humanity, which is what most of the film’s sequels get wrong. The advice he gets from his seatmate gives him a reason to be barefoot during the entire ordeal, including a sequence where henchmen deliberately shoot out the glass to shred his flat soles. The gun establishes him as one of New York’s finest, and the ring suggests a commitment to his marriage that his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), we soon learn, doesn’t share.
There are dozens of other examples of small, deftly planted details that will pay off later on. The first terrorist McClane kills has feet “smaller...
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