‘Live Free or Die Hard’ *** Movie review 080207

The work = ***
One of the more pleasurable experiences when seeing a film is discovering that it is better than you were expecting. In a June post I babbled that I had been avoiding ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ because it was looking like the film was going to be mediocre. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong and I am here to say that ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ is an enjoyable summer action film, well worth seeing. I still think I’m right that the film has a really dumb title (what the hell does that even mean?) but like they say “what’s in a name?”

That is also not to say that the film doesn’t have its problems, some of which I predicted. One of which at the forefront is the film's rating: it has been downgraded to PG-13. While in much of ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ this was not too noticeable in some scenes it was; where blood and/ or effects seemed left out. The bigger issue is this material is at its core, R-rated. Cramming in the bare minimum of swears and trimming back the violence just enough to get the ratings board to cede a PG-13 is a cop-out and a watering down of the material. It is also a part of a bigger problem in America; where ratings don’t always seem to work the way they are supposed to and violence is ok as long as there is only some blood. The ratings are meant to be a guide for people to know what the content of a film will be and guess what? The content of ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ is adult in nature.

The other problem is that Bruce Willis doesn’t really seem that much like John McClane. I can’t put my finger on it but for much of the film he seemed to be closer to a variation of Willis himself than a reappearance of McClane. Willis is a gifted actor and often much better than he gets credit for. Early on he just looked tired of some of the silly catch phrases and forgettable dialogue but then things pick up. I mentioned in my June post that I watched the first 8 minutes of ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ online and when rewatching the first big action sequence it still didn’t do a whole lot for me but I did settle in a bit better and the follow up sequences really shine. Justin Long is also a solid actor and he does a great job adding some comic relief to the film as computer geek/ hacker named Matt Farrell. When things kick into high gear he makes a nice counterpoint to Willis’s smooth under fire demeanor.

Filmmaker Len Wiseman should be commended for his directorial skills. He brings some style and a bit of grit to the action that gives it impact while keeping it entertaining. Wiseman seems willing to stage his action on any plane, characters can go up or down when least expected, adding an extra edge to the sequences. Stepping into a film series at the fourth installment could not have been an easy move but you wouldn’t know it from the film. ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ may have a silly title and may have felt too different from the previous ‘Die Hard’s but darn it if it is not also a good action film.

(Spoiler warning) I do have one other nitpick... it is with the films villain Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), he just doesn’t cut it. Oh he is not so much bad as he is bland. Even worse, his final undoing is simply anticlimactic. Far more entertaining is the showdown between Gabriel’s henchwoman Mai Lihn (Maggie Q) and McClane. Too bad she wasn’t the main villain. I don’t know exactly what it was that kept Gabriel from being a satisfying villain, Olyphant is certainly a good actor, but the character never seemed threatening. (End of Spoilers)

There it is, I was just plain wrong, despite the film’s rating, the weakish’ villain and not too much resemblance to the previous films, ‘Lie Free or Die Hard’ is darn good action film. Wiseman, Willis and Co, pull off what I had thought was not going to happen: they made a fitting sequel that still works and makes for a fun excursion at the theaters. I’ll bet there will be an R rated or Unrated cut of the film available on DVD and it will probably be a bit stronger than the theatrical version. Recommended.


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