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Review: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Directed by: Len Wiseman

Premise: The fourth film in the Die Hard series. Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) teams with a hacker (Justin Long) to fight a cyber-terrorism cell that is attacking the eastern United States by manipulating all automated public services.

What Works: Live Free or Die Hard brings a fresh approach to the Die Hard series in its style. The film has the requisite action sequences but the filmmakers of the fourth Die Hard movie take a hint from television programs like 24 and films like The Bourne Identity, adopting a sleeker look than the previous entries and incorporating technology into the story. The terrorist plot of Live Free or Die Hard is a compelling scenario and the struggle between John McClane’s old-school heroism and the terrorists’ high tech villainy reimagines the Die Hard franchise for an audience accustomed to electronic gaming and online videos. Director Len Wiseman made a name for himself as the director of contemporary action pictures like Underworld and the 2012 remake of Total Recall and he is a competent if unremarkable genre filmmaker. Live Free or Die Hard is easily Wiseman’s best directorial effort so far and it has quite a few large scale set pieces, such as a highway chase scene that features big explosions and major stunt work. Although these scenes are of a decidedly different tone from anything in the previous Die Hard films, they are well executed and a great deal of fun. In its concept and story, Live Free or Die Hard is less like the original film and much more like Die Hard With a Vengeance as John McClane is paired with an unwitting assistant, played by Justin Long, and the two crisscross the eastern United States in an attempt to foil a terrorist plot. To the screenwriter’s credit, McClane is presented a little differently in this movie. The filmmaker’s acknowledge the character’s age, giving him maturity and perspective, and use his unfamiliarity with technology to set McClane in the underdog role that makes the character work. Justin Long brings a lot of humor to the picture, and in many ways he fulfills the everyman role McClane embodied in the original film. Also impressive in a small role is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane’s daughter. Although she is little more than a damsel in distress, the filmmakers give her some edge and the actress makes her a likable character.

What Doesn’t: The broad scope of Live Free or Die Hard exacerbates the problems that originated in Die Hard 2 and were further apparent in Die Hard With a Vengeance. The story features coincidences and logical gaps and the technological elements of the story are often ridiculous. The geographical scope of the movie also results in quite a few scenes of the heroes traveling in cars and these scenes aren’t as interesting as similar travel scenes in other Die Hard movies. But the fundamental problems of Live Free or Die Hard are found in the movie’s innovations. The picture reinvents the series for a twenty-first century audience but it also represents the end of Die Hard as we know it. The appeal of the original Die Hard was rooted in the humanity of John McClane; he was not a superhero but an everyday man caught in a difficult situation. Live Free or Die Hard was released nearly two decades after the original film and in that time actor Bruce Willis transformed from a primetime TV star and into a Hollywood action hero. In that process a key element of McClane’s charm was diluted. Live Free or Die Hard is consistent with contemporary action films as it has the sheen of the digital age but it also suffers from preposterous escalation in the action scenes. Moments like John McClane destroying a helicopter with a car are undeniably spectacular but they also lack the grit of the first three movies.  Live Free or Die Hard also softens the edge that made the previous films interesting. It was cut to achieve a PG-13 rating, diminishing the violence and minimizing John McClane’s characteristic profanity.

DVD extras: There are two different cuts of Live Free or Die Hard: the PG-13 theatrical cut and an unrated version that contains stronger violence and harsher language. The blu-ray edition only includes the PG-13 cut, a commentary track, a documentary, featurettes, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Live Free or Die Hard is an entertaining action picture and it is better than most sequels in other franchises. The picture introduces new material that will be engaging for a contemporary audience even though those new elements cause it to drift from the conceit of the original film.

Episode: #147 (July 8, 2007); Revised #428 (February 24, 2013)