Making the Grades
It's bravado versus brains in this resurrection of a franchise that hasn't seen a new entry for over a decade. It may also be the MPAA's movie ratings versus parents in what may be the most violent PG-13 film ever released -- a strange anomaly considering the rest of the movies in the Die Hard family were profitable and well positioned in an R-rating category.
Enjoying his time off, hard working cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is reluctantly begged to come back and save the nation after a terrorist geek squad begins taking control of the country's electronically networked infrastructure of traffic, utilities, broadcasting and virtually every other aspect of society. But while McClane is able to somehow protect himself from hurtling bullets, cars, and any bad guy imaginable, he's not so hot with a computer. Thus he unwittingly takes on partner Matt Farrell (Justin Long), a computer networking genius and hacker who is suspected by federal agents as being part of the plot.
Together, the unlikely duo begin putting their heads together with the hopes of tracking down the operating location of Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), the devious mastermind behind the organized takedown of everything wired in this hyper-sensitive post 9/11 society. Working with a small army of recruited thugs and nerds, Gabriel's motivation isn't immediately obvious (a point he reminds us of with amazingly droll lines like, "You have no idea who I am or what I'm capable of") and that's a good thing because once we find out what he's really after, the script takes an immediate detour down Stupid Street.
Perhaps expecting a reasonably believable situation was a mistake to begin with. This film exists for two reasons -- to create a myriad of implausible and unimaginative situations that justify the "good guy" pummeling and shooting every enemy that comes his way, and to prove Bruce Willis is still able to hold his own as the hard working middle-aged hero. All the computer stuff, right down to the flashing lights on walls of equipment that look akin to late 1960s props, is merely bait to engage a new young audience who may not have bought the recently released trio of Die Hard DVDs.
Obviously putting those teens (and even younger viewers) into theater seats was important to the MPAA as well. Unlike other violent PG-13 outings that feature wide views of carnage and avoid one-on-one shootings, Live Free and Die Hard takes no prisoners -- instead it blasts them in plain sight. Literally dozens of people are shot on screen with detailed blood. Hand-to-hand combat results in bodies violently tossed against concrete, pipes, and any other stationary object available. It also promotes equal opportunity for genders, with one nasty female character who puts up the biggest fight against McClane, which adds extra justification for her eventual violent demise. Strangulation, burning, torture -- it seems this movie has carte blanche to maim in whatever way it wants without facing the US Restricted rating.
As well, the film provides bevy of mild and moderate profanities, and a sexual situation in the opening minutes portrays two young people fondling each other (we see a man's hand on a woman's clothed breast).
Artistically, this fourth installment starts with well-paced action but then the rather empty plot catches up with itself. Other than offering a small lesson on the evils of computer hacking, Live free or Die Hard explodes onto the screen, then quickly fizzles and dies fast.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Live Free or Die Hard.
How does this film justify the high level of violence it contains? What other ways of stopping the “bad guy” might have been used? How does having one person responsible for saving the entire country create a more exciting scenario than what would likely happen in reality?
What stereotypes do you see in this film—especially in the areas of government officials and computer experts? What techniques are used to make it seem permissible to portray violence against women?