Recently, I was watching the first Die Hard movie (1988) on television. Die Hard is based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) by Roderick Thorp. In the action film, East German terrorists led by smooth-talking Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) hold hostages in the fictional Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. Their goal is to steal $640 million in bonds from the building’s vault. The criminals have at least fifteen opportunities to capture or kill the hero John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York and Los Angeles police detective whose wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is among the hostages. The scenes include hide-and-seek, races, fist fights, gun fights, wrestling, bombs, etc. However, McClane escapes every time with only a few wounds and minor injuries. After a while, I found this movie boring because the results of every action sequence became predictable: one by one, the villains would fail and eventually get killed.
The improbable sequence of events in Die Hard reminded me of Mark Twain’s satirical analysis of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Deerslayer. In the essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” Twain argues that Cooper’s fiction has many improbable scenes in which the Native Americans come close but fail to kill or capture the white heroes and heroines. For example, one scene in The Deerslayer portrays six Amerindians who are in a tree above a huge boat moving slowly. The Indians want to jump onto the boat, but all six miss and fall into the river. Twain finds this ludicrous because real conspirators could easily reach the boat and wreak havoc. “In that matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigar-shop is not spacious,” Twain insists.
The many terrorists in Die Hard resemble Cooper’s Native Americans. Although they seem intelligent and sophisticated, the terrorists cannot figure out how to outwit McClane. Die Hard has wonderful acting, but the plot lacks probability.