19 February 2023 310 Views

In Praise of JOHN MCCLANE

by James Murphy

You read that, correctly.

Not Bruce Willis. But instead? His best character, from DIE HARD.

It goes without saying that thoughts and prayers are with Bruce Willis and his family. They deserve dignity, privacy and yet fan led concern through what will be an impossibly sad and tough time, ahead.

On the other hand? Mr Willis is not dead. Yet. And hope springs, eternal. Nobody knows what medical advances lie ahead. Never rule out a comeback, though do, of course, alas, accept, that we might have seen the last of Bruce, onscreen.

What was his greatest work/role?

Yes, the man can act. Not a great actor or character craftsman by any means but solid to goo. SIXTH SENSE, PULP FICTION, UNBREAKABLE etc: he did stretch to experimental, understated, dramatic work.

But the best platform for that Willis charisma, comedic timing, charm, coolness, machismo package? DIE HARD. 

Put it this way: the role cannot be re-cast. Ever. Gerard Butler (much as I like him) can do all the tribute PLANE/BOAT films he wants. It ain’t Bruce. Keanu in SPEED. Almost there but not quite. And so on. 

Think also, the list of possible McClanes that almost were: FRANK SINATRA, MEL GIBSON (Expendables 3 was meant to be Mel v Bruce..oh the lost opps!); Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, ARNIE/SLY; Richard Gere and so on.

NOBODY could, would or should have owned the role like Willis. It was inspired casting! Which is why, the mooted prequel stalled (nobody can be a young Bruce) and equally, why, trying to pass the baton to a son in part 5 was a misfire. 

What Bruce brought was an everyman quality, whilst remaining a ripped action hero. You believed this man could bleed, endure and survive, somehow. He was funny, with a wicked turn of phrase. And loving, romantic, incorruptible. The guy just wanted to save his wife/kids/the day and go home for a burger.

The first 3 films are perfection. Those lines! ‘NO SHIT LADY. DO I SOUND LIKE I’M ORDERING A PIZZA?’. ‘What set off the metal detectors first? The lead in your pants or the hit in your brains, you fat fuck’. ‘He was a fuck-up, not a psycho. The guy we’re looking for is nuts!’. Etc.

I did not love part 4. So many pitches that did not get made (DIE HARD IN THE JUNGLE; DIE HARD ON A BOAT etc) vs the 12 year wait for a then bald, non smoking, toned down McClane. I had to deploy my poor, beloved Mom to buy ‘the one with the swearing in it’. It made a difference. Trust me.

Watch Bruce saying ‘Shut up’ vs the cut whereby it’s ‘HEY? SHUT THE FUCK UP!’. But Live Free/4.0 is still watered down and ironically enough, despite or maybe because of that, also, a nastier product. McClane bullies his daughter, is now divorced and shouts both racial (imho) and sexist slurs at Maggie Q as he pulls hair out of her head for a truly brutal kill. Something was missing. And as for A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD? I just pretend that’s non canon.

JOHN MCCLANE. You will, alas, never return. But your cinematic legacy is enshrined, forever and in no small part, due to the action heroic, comedic timing and old school macho, movie star charm of BRUCE WILLIS. 

YIPPEEE-KAY-YAY!



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