Friday, February 15, 2013

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Political prisoner Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) languishes in a Moscow prison cell, patiently awaiting his day in court.  His only obstacle is the corrupt government official Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), who constantly pressures him to hand over a secret file.  When such efforts prove fruitless, he resorts to more drastic measures. Elsewhere, Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) suddenly finds himself at the mercy of Moscow’s judicial system.  Half a world away, John McClane (Bruce Willis) learns of his son’s plight and immediately travels to Moscow.  Upon his arrival, both Jack and Yuri sit in a courthouse holding pen.  Before any legal proceedings can begin, the building is bombed.  Jack and Yuri make an escape amidst the chaos.  They are nearly intercepted by the perpetrators of the attack when John intervenes.  The trio then spends the foreseeable future evading capture.  Can John salvage his relationship with his son amidst endless barrages of gunfire?

As can sometimes happen in a large family, the father feels estranged from his youngest offspring.  Such is the case here, and for good reason.  A Good Day to Die Hard is the fifth entry in the Die Hard series.       Any connection it has to the original film is at best tenuous.  Under such circumstances, one might expect the new film to carve out its own unique identity.  That would be the logical choice, seeing as how it features a younger and apparently more able bodied protagonist in Jai Courtney.  However, logic is obviously of little concern to director John Moore and company.  A Good Day to Die Hard adheres to no particular discipline, and has seemingly little regard for the original’s legacy.

In Die Hard, Jan De Bont’s camera effortlessly shifted vantage points depending on the requirements of the scene.  At times, it acted as a voyeur.  It would peer around corners in much the same manner as John McClane himself.  At other times, it mirrored the mindset of a frightened hostage.   When an action scene was underway, it became a transfixed spectator.  Even the most mundane or grotesque moments were often rendered with an understated beauty.  Judging by his work on A Good Day to Die Hard, cinematographer Jonathan Sela has no such ambitions.  He relies mostly on hand-held shots, with the occasional reverse zoom.  The monochromatic color palette has all the visual flair of an overcast sky.

The initial, happenstance meeting between John and Jack McClane perfectly personifies the first act of the film.  Nothing makes much sense.  The movie risks blowing its proverbial load far too early, with an apocalyptic car chase through Moscow.  The onscreen chaos is completely devoid of grace or coherence.  Subsequent set pieces are handled similarly.  A good example is a sequence where McClane and son descend through the scaffolding alongside a building.  All the while, the structure is being eviscerated by aircraft fire.  In more competent hands, it might be worthy of an Indiana Jones film.  As directed by John Moore, it never comes close to that level of whimsy and excitement. 

Most crippling to the film is it’s characterization of John McClane.  As shown here, he is no longer a resilient everyman.  He is now a stone-faced killing machine who mows down one wave of henchmen after another without batting an eye.  This evolution (if it can be called that) feels neither authentic nor organic.  Bruce Willis seems bored, and has reduced his performance to mere short hand.  John McClane is now a collection of mannerisms, ticks, and one-liners.

With each successive film, the Die Hard series has gotten that much further away from its initial premise.  The last two films feel completely disconnected from the first three.  They exist in another universe, and represent a rapid decline in quality.  If Live Free or Die Hard was simply a generic actioner masquerading as a Die Hard film, then A Good Day to Die Hard is a chintzy knock-off.  John McClane is no longer a scrappy little cockroach of an action hero.  He’s now a louder, less refined James Bond.  He also lacks the martial skillset of a Jason Bourne or a Bryan Mills.  Instead of truly overcoming obstacles, he simply bulldozes past them.  His attitude reflects that of the film itself.  The original Die Hard thrilled audiences the world over.  A Good Day to Die Hard prefers to decimate them, like a weapon of mass destruction en route to a strategic target.