Die Hard With a Vengeance Review

by Lewis Stiller (stiller AT lost-boy DOT cs DOT jhu DOT edu)
June 30th, 1995

A film review by Lewis Stiller
Copyright 1995 Lewis Stiller

    The title sequence of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE introduces the film's many misdirections with an unexpected and uncentered explosion. Cut to the police department where Chief of Detectives Walter Cobb is framed partly out-of frame while talking on the phone: we only see a quadrant of his face. The widescreen image seems almost unable to hold all the action, an impression augmented by the frequent whip pans. The cinematography (Menzies) throughout uses a lot of whip pans, out-of-frame compositions, and shorter length lenses than would be common, giving the scenes a sense of dynamism, immediacy and at times surrealism. The effect is increased in the notorious Harlem scene when whip pans, aggressive rack focus, Dutch angles, and a brief dolly zoom disorient the viewer. Throughout the film, interesting crane shots abound, and the camera moves very fast.

    A highly elliptical editing (J. Wright, M. Miller) technique is used, relying on the viewer's familiarity with genre action films to elide pleonastic narrative; cuts are always straight cuts or whip pans with neglible lapping.

    Portions of the soundtrack are interesting, particularly during a long and directorially virtuoso sequence of the breaching of the Federal Reserve set to "When Johny Comes Marching Home" (or "The Ants Go Marching In," as I learned it at camp). The drums in the melody actually begin well before the actual melody, though this would not be noticed by the casual viewer.

    Foley and sound engineering is good, with the Dolby Digital Surround lending considerable subwoofer and surround oomph to some scenes. Relatively few theaters, of course, have B-chains remotely capable of reproducing accurately these effects, whether they have digital A-chains or not.

    Inspired use of regional and international accents provide an undercurrent of humor and verisimilitude; I especially enjoyed the hapless manglings of Gruber's Dutch alias--Gruber's commentary on U.S. parochialism, perhaps?--and the New York accents.

    The plot is both more original, more ambitious, and less consistent than standard for the genre. It begins to meander back to triteness in the last quarter of the film, however, and some of the obligatory car chases and gun battles are gratuitous. The acting and dialogue are quite good, except that the ambiguous portrayal of the cops again resolves into cliches during a school scene. Nonetheless there's a refreshing lambency in spots.

    The film was well-directed, enjoyable, fun-to-watch.

Lewis Stiller
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