The Cinefessions crew loves sharing their opinions on films, but not every movie can get the attention it deserves with a full review. Enter the Cinefessions’ Capsule Reviews. These capsule reviews cover five of the most important aspects of a film, which allow the crew to deliver their opinions on any movie clearly, decisively, and with brevity. These are not our full thoughts on any film, just a highlighting of the major pros and/or cons.
I will admit that there are some actors out there that have earned a free pass from me. These guys can do pretty much anything and I’ll surely love it. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of those guys, as is Justin Long. I’m not sure what it is about Long – Gyllenhaal is just a brilliant, severely underrated actor – but I’ve always liked him since I first saw him in Jeepers Creepers, and then again in Waiting. He has excellent comedic timing, but has also proven that he can be a great dramatic actor (like his role in After.Life). He’s one of those guys that has earned my respect tenfold. Another one like that? Timothy Olyphant. Not only would I play for other team for this guy, but he’s just a stellar talent. Both of them are excellent here, but I especially enjoyed Justin Long as the computer hacker and complete apparent antithesis of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. These two have a wonderful chemistry, much like Samuel L. Jackson and Willis in Die Hard: With a Vengeance. On the female front, Maggie Q manages to look especially attractive while she’s teaching McClane the finer art of martial arts, and I am surprised to admit that I actually enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead in her role as McClane’s college-aged daughter. I’m not normally a fan of hers, but she does a nice job in this relatively minor role. Oh, and I was totally kidding about playing for the other team for Olyphant…I think…
Story & Script
This isn’t a typical Die Hard story where McClane is the antagonist’s initial target. In Live Free or Die Hard, Detective McClane is sent on a routine trip to pick up a hacker, Matt, and escort him back to Washington D.C. because of a recent security breach. Things immediately turn ugly when John reaches Matt’s apartment, and shots start firing from outside the building. Someone is trying to kill Matt, and McClane needs to know why. It turns out that the hackers are trying to take down the government computer system in order to steal insane amounts of money. This is clearly an oddball in the Die Hard franchise, but it still feels like a Die Hard film because of McClane. It’s outrageously over the top, loud, and always a balls out action flick. That isn’t a complaint, just an observation. There is virtually no depth to this fourth outing, though, which is something that the first and third film managed to find even within the crazy action sequences. I enjoyed the small part where McClane started talking to himself as a nice throwback to the originals, but this single homage stands alone. It’s clear that the script was not interested in playing to nostalgia, but rather in making a fun action film for a new audience (while cashing in on the Die Hard name).
It’s evident from the first frame that this is a different film that what we’ve gotten previously. It is a slick, glossy, Hollywood action flick. The original three films felt grittier and more raw than this, but that could be a product of the time they were made more so than anything else. Instead of getting a hard “R” action film like we have in the past, we get a more sanitized, “PG-13” summer blockbuster. This doesn’t ruin the movie, it just makes it stand out as different. What Len Wiseman does right is deliver some crazy action sequences that combine to tell a fun story of a cyber hacker trying to get rich. I appreciate the effort, and think he mostly succeeds in keeping the spirit of the franchise alive.
There comes a point in some action movies where it gets hard to suspend disbelief, and that moment came tenfold at the end of this movie. I’ll call it the Fighter Jet vs. Semi Truck scene. Without sounding hyperbolic, this scene is more ridiculous than any three other scenes in the Die Hard franchise – or any other franchise, for that matter – combined. The CGI is way too much, and the whole thing, though entertaining, just had me saying “no way in hell” the entire time. There’s a fine line between a great action sequence, and a ridiculous action sequence, and the Fighter Jet vs. Semi Truck scene falls on the wrong side of that line.
This is definitely a film that I’ll enjoy rewatching again over time. I know my wife had a period where she was obsessed with watching it over and over again in her younger days, and I can see why. It combines a lot of humor with a great cast and quick moving action scenes. That’s a solid recipe for replay.
Contrary to popular belief, Live Free or Die Hard does not kill the Die Hard franchise. It feels like it has a different soul than the rest of the franchise, but it’s still good ol’ John McClane defying the odds and saving the world, and that’s always fun to watch. Some of the action sequences are spot on, while others go too far with both CGI and believability, but overall, the acting and characters make this an enjoyable actioner.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.