So once again we have survived.

Die Hard With a Vengeance

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RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: May 19

“But I thought this was a currency exchange!”

In kicking off my summer of 1995 retrospective I made the grave error of skipping a May 19th release that very likely is the movie of that summer, one that is widely loved (especially around here) but sometimes forgotten in the lists of great films of the ’90s. Of course I don’t have to remind you guys about DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, you know about it. But I neglected to remember that my reviews of the original DIE HARD trilogy were written 15 years ago when I was taking the first steps on my journey to cinematic enlightenment. In other words I was kind of a dummy. So I owe it to myself and to society to try again.

The main thing that makes WITH A VENGEANCE stand out from the other DIE HARD sequels is the strong filmatism of director John McTiernan at his peak. The opening two minutes is a perfect sample, like when the one guy in the coke deal lets the other guy dip his finger in and taste the product. We see the Brooklyn Bridge on a summer day. Then the words “DIE HARD” whoosh onto the screen. This is DIE HARD but it’s a new location, new time of year, new time of day. Then the words fly away and are replaced by a much larger” WITH A VENGEANCE,” slamming across the screen, then shooting right at us. This is a sequel that’s aware of the power of it’s title, so it’s unashamed to smash it into our eyes with a sound effect, to cockily fill the whole screen with it.

Then we get a beautiful montage of New York City set to “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. The sun glimmering on reflective buildings. Sidewalks filled with people walking to work. Cars and buses and delivery trucks. These look like real commuters. Documentary footage. An accurate representation of regular people starting their day. A nice day, too. But abruptly, mid-lyric, a department store explodes, sending clouds of dust and wreckage into the street, flipping over cars and trucks parked in front.

Of course watching this now it has 9-11 connotations. But that just shows how well McT captured the feel of a pleasant day when people go about their business unaware of the nightmare that some asshole has been planning. At least it seems like there might not have been anybody in there. Although if there was, obviously Superman is to blame for their deaths.

(All throughout the movie McTiernan will squeeze alot of tension of the situations by constantly having extras in the background not knowing they’re in danger. McClane will be messing with a bomb in the park while behind him some dude is innocently playing catch with his dog.)

So that’s the great opening, but it keeps getting better. From there we go right to the chaotic police headquarters where our boy John McClane has worked for so many years, even after Holly moved to L.A. to work with Ellis and all those guys. But McClane’s not there. It’s Inspector Walter Cobb (Larry Bryggman, who seems like a veteran character actor but only has 16 credits on IMDb) trying to field all the questions and send people in the right directions to deal with this crisis. But as there’s all this chaos around him in the office the camera lets his face drift slowly out of frame so that our attention shifts to a secretary in the background answering the phone and having an “oh shit” look on her face. Uh, hey Inspector. Mad bomber on the line. Cobb talks to this guy, who calls himself Simon, and finds out he wants McClane.

BruceMcClane’s not at work. He’s suspended. I don’t think we ever hear why, but I bet it’s not one of those bullshit “I was just doing my job” type of suspensions. More likely it’s for something more pathetic, like showing up to work drunk. This is one of the masterstrokes: after McClane saving so many lives at Nakatomi Plaza and Dulles International they coulda had him be some bigshot with a bunch of medals, a book deal and a TV movie. But we love him for being an underdog, a fuckup made good. So in the time since part 2 McClane’s let his self destructive tendencies and poor marital skills get the better of him. The cops have to find him at “whatever rock he’s under.” He’s hungover, blurry-eyed, unshaven, in his undershirt, popping aspirin, and later it’s mentioned that he smells like beer. When they give him the old cliche “Jesus John, you look like shit,” he’s earned it. This is very much the McClane, and the Bruce, that we love. A charismatic mess. A loser who, when pushed, is stubborn enough to become a winner.

And this is actually my favorite part of the movie because it’s the reverse of an iconic hero introduction like panning up the leg to show him standing there looking awesome. Before we see him we see a bunch of shots of Cobb and his colleagues Joe Lambert (Graham Greene, DANCES WITH WOLVES) and Connie Kowalski (Colleen Camp, GAME OF DEATH, SPEED 2) literally looking down at McClane, wincing in disgust. And the first shot of him he’s sitting on the floor, he’s got his hand against his forehead, reeling from a headache and not noticing someone’s trying to hand him coffee. His wedding ring is very visible, though we later learn he hasn’t talked to Holly in a year.

They ask him somewhat condescending questions, kind of worried, more disappointed. And as they’re talking you start to realize this is a moving van, so they must be headed somewhere to do something that we haven’t been told about. And he’s nervous as hell, but he’s gonna do it anyway. This is pure John McClane: I’m a piece of shit, but I’m gonna do what has to be done.

What has to be done of course turns out to be the famous scene where McClane is forced to walk around in Harlem wearing a sandwich board with a racist message on it. Clearly Simon has seen THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE:

Here again McTiernan knows the best way to tell the story visually, showing McClane walking around scared and embarrassed, and the reactions of an innocent old lady he walks past, before showing us what’s on the sign.

mp_dhwav2This is where we meet Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson, THE RETURN OF SUPERFLY), a great addition to the DIE HARD franchise universe saga mythos. He seems kind of like the real Samuel L. when that poor nitwit interviewer confused him with Laurence Fishburne, a real serious sufferer of no fools. He’s very strict in the way he looks out for his nephews that he takes care of, making sure they make good decisions, and making difficult calls to protect the peace in his neighborhood. In this case that means standing up for what seems like a crazy racist.

Unfortunately I think this scene is a bit of a misstep. If a white dude really did this I believe he would get threatened, yelled at, pushed, maybe beat up. But I just don’t buy that a mob of Scary Black Guys (credited as “Gang Member”s #1-7) would appear and one of them would pull out a switchblade and throw it into his sign. They’re dressed very ’90s but they act like they should be wearing denim vests and studded collars. They’re subway muggers from an ’80s movie about how scary it is for white people to go to “the wrong part of town” at night. (Gang Member #3 Kent Faulcon’s previous role was “Low Life #3” in DREAM A LITTLE DREAM.) I’m not expecting a great drama about racial tension here but the outdated stereotype puts a knock in what so far had been a perfectly running engine.

Then again, I can’t pretend that Argyle from part 1 isn’t a bit of a stereotype, even if it’s an innocuous one. Zeus balances some of this out because he’s a black hero designed to make white people uncomfortable. He explains that he didn’t save McClane’s ass, he just “stopped a white cop from getting killed in Harlem. One white cop gets killed today, tomorrow we got a thousand white cops, all of ’em with itchy trigger fingers.” Later that reasoning is supported by the incident where he almost gets shot by one such cop, a young nervous transit officer (Scott Nicholson) who pulls a gun not even because of any dead cops, but because Zeus yelled at another guy to get the pay phone from him. (Of course he needs the pay phone to deal with Simon, and when the bomb goes off he pulls the officer out of the way.)

Zeus is exactly as cynical and no-bullshit as McClane, also just as angry and mean, but doesn’t hide it with humor as much. And when he hears about “that thing in L.A.” (what we at home would just refer to as “DIE HARD”), he’s not impressed.

Willis and Jackson have a good chemistry. (They had just filmed PULP FICTION before this, but it hadn’t come out yet when they were filming, so they made a reference to it without knowing what a cultural phenomenon it was gonna be.) I like that they seem genuinely mad at each other for a while. But I do think the McClane-Zeus sparring enables this common white people fear of Why don’t black people like me? I didn’t do anything! Or, as McClane puts it, “You got some fuckin problem with me ’cause I’m white, Zeus? Is that it, huh? Have I oppressed you, have I oppressed your people somehow? I’ll tell you what your problem is, you don’t like me ’cause you’re a racist! You’re a racist, you don’t like me because I’m white!”

Zeus gets him succinctly, though: “No, I hate you because you’re gonna get me killed!” And McClane’s outburst can’t help but put him in a category with a Wall Street guy later in the movie who gets in the cab that Zeus is driving and when he doesn’t want to drive him asks “Oh, you don’t like white people?” And this is clearly a character we’re supposed to think is a douche.

But take note of how McClane handles things after that. He’s not a baby about it. He doesn’t complain or use Zeus as evidence against black people. He just ignores the tension and proves himself with his actions, and they become friends.

But first they’re forced to work together solving these damn puzzles. Zeus is clearly better at this kind of stuff. Jonathan Hensleigh’s script started as an original non-DIE HARD spec script, but supposedly at one point Warner Brothers considered buying it to use as a LETHAL WEAPON sequel, and you can see how this could be Murtaugh and Riggs. Zeus offers the smarts, McClane comes up with the crazy ideas like beating the clock by driving through Central Park, nearly running over dozens of people in a well-shot scene that makes effective use of a pretty shaky camera. And I can imagine Riggs making the same corny mime joke he does. The movie has some fun by playing by emergency rules. If he was just a cop trying to catch a bad guy then he might seem like an above-the-law asshole doing all this stuff, but he has to stop some imminent bombings so he has license to steal cars and wreck them, drive around like a maniac through oncoming traffic, off of an overpass, making everybody swerve or jump out of the way.

mp_dhwav3Simon is an excellent DIE HARD villain. Since turns out to be Hans Grueber’s brother he has license to be a similar type of arrogant character, and Irons can obviously pull off that sense of being smarter than everybody and having contempt for them. As Hans had “Ode To Joy” as his theme, Simon has Symphony Number Such-and-such, the one used in DR. STRANGELOVE. He’s more of a soldier than Hans, though. The suit and tie is the disguise, he prefers showing off his skinny arms in a sleeveless shirt. He also gets some power by being only a phone voice for so long. We finally see him 47 minutes in, when it’s revealed that he’s watching Cobb and the others from a rooftop above. “They bought it,” he says. “We can begin.”

But mostly the plot unfolds similar to part 1, with the terrorists/thieves very professionally executing each step of their plan long before we know exactly what they’re up to. And as far as these movie heists go it’s a good one, an audacious plan that’s fun to watch (filling dump trucks with gold bars!) and has plenty of twists and turns (It’s all about revenge! It’s all about gold! It’s kind of still about revenge though! Wait, he’s ripping off some of his friends! But not all of them!)

His henchmen are simple but enjoyable characters. There’s some comic relief when one of them worries that “a kid could find” their suitcase bomb if they leave it somewhere, just like Zeus worried in an earlier scene. And I like how one who’s disguised as a security guard reverses the term “raining cats and dogs” and says “lift” instead of elevator. I think it helps tip McClane off that he’s an impostor, but the movie doesn’t point it out to you.

The most memorable henchperson is Simon’s girlfriend Katya (Sam Phillips). I don’t think she has any lines, but she knows how to dangle a cigarette and slice up a guy with knives. She reminds me of a blond Carrie Anne-Moss and she’s so convincing as a cold-hearted German warrior woman that I was surprised to look her up just now and find out she’s a former Contemporary Christian singer who is married to T-Bone Burnett and scored the TV shows Gilmore Girls and Bunheads.

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Simon never really planned to blow up a school as he threatened, saying that he’s not a monster. But of course they’re willing to kill whoever’s in their way, so he’s not exactly humanitarian of the year either. Still, I like the little non-evil, more human moments with him. Like the part where they’ve seemingly gotten away with their gold heist and the whole crew celebrates with a rowdy champagne toast “to fallen comrades.” Or when he captures McClane and they kind of talk like guys who really are just playing a game. Simon can’t deny it when McClane calls his brother an asshole. They share a laugh together.

You know what’s another great piece of McT filmatism is when some dumb kid stealing a Butterfinger causes McClane to figure out that this revenge plot is actually cover for a heist. The camera dramatically rotates around his head as his mouth is agape.

Willis does alot of good intense expressions when the shit goes down, and gets lots of blood and dirt on him. Once again he goes through the ringer. Unfortunately things get both more outlandish and more convenient as we get to the last third or so of the movie. He’ll just walk up to construction workers and they’ll give him all the exposition he needs, like on a cop show. Or after a big scene where he’s in a flooded tunnel and he gets geysered out of a manhole Zeus coincidentally is driving right next to where he comes out. And then they both do a fall onto a boat that seems like it should’ve permanently crippled them both, and they get up.

The very end is maybe the most ridiculous thing in the movie. Simon has escaped, but McClane suddenly realizes he has a clue to where he’s going, so McClane and Zeus go after him in a helicopter. Okay, maybe I can accept that after all this McClane is going to want to go after this guy personally, not just let the other police take care of it. But why would Zeus go with him, or be allowed to go with him? And why would the police really let them take a helicopter and its pilot without backup? It seems so much less sensible than the rest of the movie.

Of course we learned years later that this is because that ending was not the original plan, it came together in reshoots. The originally scripted ending, included on DVDs and blu-rays of the movie, is better in my opinion. In that version some months have passed since Simon got away with the gold, and McClane’s life has been further damaged by this whole incident, so he’s ready to really die hard with a vengeance. Using his detective skills he tracks Simon to his secluded life in Europe, outsmarts him, scares him, kills him. I can see why they might’ve decided it left McClane in too dark of a place, or that Zeus shouldn’t disappear for the last scene. But I like how unexpected it is, and I think it makes more sense than the ending they used. It feels more like the natural ending.

Not that I completely hate the other one. I like the old school way the credits play over a slow pan out from McClane calling Holly on a payphone and the helicopter burning as the police arrive. And Zeus gets a great last line. McClane asks “Should we call a firetruck?” And Zeus says:

“Nah, fuck ’em. Let ’em cook.”

I’m much easier on LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD than many people. I enjoy it. Can’t say the same for A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, but at least I appreciate how McClane gets to reconnect with each of his children across these two movies. But maybe the best place to depart this series is with that VENGEANCE credits sequence. Simon Grueber, what’s left of “that L.A. thing,” is cooking on the sidewalk, and McClane is swallowing his pride to call Holly and see if she’ll talk to him. And we can hope for the best without having to see what happens.

Legacy:

McTiernan’s subsequent directorial works include THE 13TH WARRIOR and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, both pretty decent. His last movie, BASIC, was in 2003. These days he’s trying to get another movie off the ground which would be his comeback both from a career-derailing jail stint for lying to the FBI and, maybe moreso, from 2002’s ROLLERBALL.

Screenwriter Hensleigh, whose previous credits were A FAR OFF PLACE and five episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, had a bit of a run as kind of a cheesy studio movie guy, getting credits on JUMANJI, THE SAINT, ARMAGEDDON and later NEXT. But I prefer him as the writer-director who has so far done THE PUNISHER, WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE and KILL THE IRISHMAN.

The way this sequel broke the DIE HARD series away from limited locations into a wider canvas was obviously very influential on the next two sequels, though they don’t do it as well. The plot also was clearly the inspiration for 12 ROUNDS (directed by DIE HARD 2’s director Renny Harlin) and its sequel. You could maybe make an argument for the SAW series, also, with its know-it-all villain forcing people to play games, but I tend to think he’s more based on Vincent Price avenging villain type characters.

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE went on to be the highest grossing movie of 1995, above even the beloved classic TOY STORY. So there was a time when an action movie could be R-rated and still make 366 million dollars.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, June 1st, 2015 at 1:15 pm and is filed under Action, Bruce, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

56 Responses to “Die Hard With a Vengeance”

  1. I agree the McClane intro is the best part of the movie. WITH A VENGEANCE is a conundrum for Franchise Fred. At the time it was my favorite name for a sequel ever (this was before RISE OF and REDEMPTION were even the prolific subtitles) but I actually think they topped it with the blatant Americana of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD.

    Watching i again every two years (inspired either by the latest DIE HARD sequel or burning through the first two at Christmastime), I still feel like McTiernan was rushed. (He was, this is when summer movies began starting with a release date and worrying about the film later). So editing is a mess particularly in action scenes, which despite practical stunts fail to grab me. It is nice to read about those McT filmatistic moments of revelation. I’ll have to watch for them next time I revisit, but again those were not action scenes. Perhaps WITH A VENGEANCE works best as a character study of our favorite families (the McClanes and the Grubers) but not as an action movie.

    Unfortunately, I think the Hensleigh script may just no have been adapted enough. I never thought the riddles came across as the mindfuck I think they were intended. I did finally figure out how they did the water jugs (there’s two possible solutions) but I don’t think the film ever sits with them long enough get a sense that they’re tough to solve. Plus it turns out there are no stakes. The riddles are a distraction and the bombs will go off anyway.

    At the time, maybe Samuel L. Jackson was still new enough in mainstream movies that seeing him yell at people was still fun. That part certainly feels derivative now, and the whole “are you racist” schtick was very ’90s. I think I knew all of this in 1995, I just needed a new DIE HARD so badly I forgave it. Now I’ve got several more, although maybe only one good one (LFODH) so I don’t need WITH A VENGEANCE as much. At this point, DIE HARDER has grown on me so it’s actually my preferred ’90s era DIE HARD sequel.

    BTW guys, 1995 is the year I worked at a movie theater before college (1994 too, and ’96 became projectionist). This is a really significant trip down memory lane for me. Probably the closest one can come to going home again.

  2. I’d had a DIE HARD 2 poster on my wall for five years by the time this came out, so you best believe I was as pumped as humanly possible. Saw it three times in the theater, one of them with the hottest girl I’d ever managed to score a date with at that time. This was also one of the first movies I watched (on VHS, motherfuckers) when I moved to New York in the middle of the sweltering summer of 2000. So yeah, I love me some motherfuckin’ WITH A VENGEANCE.

    Another PULP FICTION reference in the movie is when John is talking about his suspension and he says he was “smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo,” which is a line from “Flowers on the Wall” from the PULP soundtrack.

    One thing I loved about this one was that it was the first time you get to see John on the job, not just a fly pissing in somebody else’s ointment. You’d think he’d be your typical loose cannon prick, but he’s actually pretty by the book and respectful. He calls everyone “sir” or “ma’am” and tries to be as polite as the extreme circumstances will allow. You get the sense that he got suspended for not getting along with the higher-ups, not for the kind of funny police brutality that got Action Jackson busted down to sergeant.

    Great movie. Great plot rolled at in intriguing fashion, great atmosphere, great characters, and some of the last great completely analog action scenes of this size of scope we’d ever see. If I’d just gotten to first base with that girl it would definitely be in my top ten.

  3. It’s interesting how this is both a high point in the series (For me it’s a very close 2nd best) and also the reason why the further sequels were pretty shitty. For example McClane never needed a sidekick, but then they gave him one who was fucking BlackClane! Someone who is pretty much equal to him in terms of blue collar heroism and not taking shit from anybody. I doubt McClane will ever be sidekickless again and I wouldn’t mind if they would bring Zeus back, but something tells me that it will be someone even worse than that BIG BANG THEORY prototype and the surprisingly uninteresting McClane Jr.

    I also doubt that we will ever see McClane fighting his way out of a crystal jungle (which is I think the Russian title for the first DIE HARD) again. Instead part 6 will most likely just be a re-release of ARMAGEDDON, with a new beginning that explains why McClane had to change his name a new ending where he survives. (Spoiler for Armageddon.)

    Excuse me for going Max Landis for a bit, but my idea for a DIE HARD WITH A SIX, would be an ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 scenario, with the McClane family (Yes, even his son and BIG BANG THEORY prototype, who is now married to his daughter) plus some old friends like Zeus and Al Powell are celebrating something. (Maybe John’s official and honorable, but still forced retirement?) Then suddenly they are under fire from a gang of mobsters or whatever, because one of the last arrests (or kills?) John made while on duty, was apparently some super important guy and he didn’t even realize who he got. (Of course after the studio re-write, the assault would be a cover up for big heist or somethign like that.)

  4. Dikembe Mutombo

    June 1st, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    For my money this is the best DIE HARD film. No, I’m not going to take that back. The chemistry with Samuel L., Jeremy Irons having a blast, the intense location shooting and high octane action, McTiernan with some of the most visceral filmmaking of his career, and what I really love is the ‘just another day as an NYC cop’ angle for McClane.

    McTiernan was at the top of his game here. Those whip pans of his are so electric and great. One thing he does terrifically in this and the first DIE HARD (and which Andrew Davis did real well also) is infuse every scene with so much background color, even the most minor characters are noticable as ‘types’ who buzz and fill the screen with energy. Colleen Camp yelling her ass off is one of this film’s most overlooked treasures, the guy who plays the bomb tech, the weary Captain – all perfect. And the usage of New York as a location is super evocative, the exoticism of the setting is tied so nicely with apt moments like the jittery cop trying to get Zeus to put the phone down – how perfect is that scene???

    Vern, you’re right about McClane’s entrance being a masterstroke. Yep, he’s the same old pain in the ass John McClane we all remembered – a guy you WANT to underestimate. And frankly I love that he’s estranged from Holly at this point, because they were pretty insufferable together in DIE HARD 2.

    McTiernan shows how he ‘gets’ DIE HARD in a bone-deep way, which makes sense for obvious reasons. The villains should be having FUN when they’re pulling off their master scheme – and the audience should be feeling the same high that they are. And the henchmen should all be memorable and intriguing, like Katya is in this. I agree things get a little phoned in during that last third or so of the film, and that’s probably the best argument DIE HARD 1 has over this film is it never gets sloppy that way. But Zeus really takes it to the next level for me, some of the “who’s the real racist??” exchanges in the film are a little bad but it’s balanced pretty well by the fact that Zeus has a legitimate perspective and isn’t made into a buffoon for voicing it… he’s a great character.

  5. Really love and appreciate that all the cops are good in this one. There are no corrupt insiders, traitors, or incompetents. The movie may be about John (and Zeus) but everyone on the police force pulls their weight, does what needs to be done, and are eve willing to go beyond and give the ultimate sacrifice. Love the scene with the bomb tech getting up and then stopping and deciding to finish to try and disarm the bomb. It is so rare you see a movie where the entire police force are depicted as decent people and/or competent. Also love that the film’s casting is far more diverse (and not seeming forced) than we usually get as well.

    Great film, definitely one of the best American action films of the ’90s.

  6. Every once in a while, for fun, I re-read your DIE HARD reviews, Vern, so it was a great surprise this morning to find this new perspective on it.

  7. Great review as always, dead-on and all that, but I have to mention that the intro doesn’t give me 9/11 connotations now (and of course this is subjective but), it’s the gut-damned Boston Marathon bombing. Because the intro to Die Hard: With A Vengeance was the very, VERY first thing I thought of when I saw the footage the day it happened. My mind usually goes to movies when I see real-life, odd and/or tragic situations, but that…I remember, it was PALPABLE.

    So, yea.

  8. Oh and I STILL say, in a cool, raspy, Willis-esque voice “Getcha self a blocker. Head for the end zone.” when an ambulance blows by me in traffic and I’m the first one to re-emerge back into traffic behind it. I obviously don’t speed up WITH it, I’m not a monster. I just say the line.

  9. Great way to improve a cruddy Monday is to see a surprise Vern review of a Die Hard w/ a Vengeance.

    I really miss McTiernan at the height of his powers; he’s the engine that drives these films. It’s not so much plot as aesthetic, and how characters interact. He just gets it.

    Favorite part is still the elevator fight (elevator fights are a subset of action scenes that have a rich filmic history; this is top five, I’d say). Vern mentioned how the German guy does pretty well with the accent (he should be on fuckin TV with that accent), but blows his cover with the “dogs and cats” and “lift” miscues. I like that the movie doesn’t feel the need to beat you over the head with the clues.

    But McClane still gets in the elevator, despite the reservations, but he has a plan. Of course the badge on the bad guy confirms it, but McClane doesn’t panic and uses the cramped dimensions in his favor. Gotta love the exploding head-shot finale.

    What takes it to the next level (elevator joke) is the punchline though, when he’s stumbling out into the vault and Zeus sees him. Zeus is all “Whoa, McClane, you alright?” and McClane just says, “huh? Oh, it’s not my blood,” all nonchalant. Great delivery by Bruce, maybe his best ever. I sincerely think that.

  10. I think the first hour of this is really great, operating on a different plane than any other Die Hard sequel. Then the riddle thing completely fizzles out, and John McClane is surfing trucks and is tied to a giant ACME cartoon bomb and making stupid ass jumps onto a ship and both endings are just terrible, frankly. It gets by on the power of McTiernan’s direction(one of the best in the business at this sort of thing, long ago), Michael Kaplan’s score, and the chemistry between Willis/Jackson.

  11. Dammit, guys, I don’t have time to rewatch DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE this week but it looks like that’s what I’ll be doing.

  12. The Original Paul

    June 1st, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Jeremy, I couldn’t agree with you more. I absolutely love this movie, up to the point at which Simon Gruber is introduced. At which point it pretty much falls to pieces.

    Man, I’d like to do a proper analysis on Simon Gruber’s character, just to get more of a sense of why I dislike him so damn much. I think it boils down to the fact that he’s a carbon copy of brother Hans, except less so. Simon is to Hans what THE THING (2011) was to THE THING (1982). He’s a classic example of lazy character design – a direct retread of what’s gone before, with nothing interesting added. And as a result of that, nothing about him comes across, to me, as real or authentic. And as much as it pains me to criticise Jeremy Irons, who does so many things well – he’s no Alan Rickman. Not in this case.

    See, I would argue that Simon is not a villain, he’s a parody. And while I love a villain who has fun with how evil he is (and Rickman’s Gruber might be the very definition of this), the crucial difference between Rickman and Irons is that when Rickman does it, I’m having fun as well. Not the case with Irons. I realise that not every performance he gives has to be as ridiculously over-the-top as Profion from DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, but man… if ever a role needed some of that orgasmic camp thing that he does so damn entertainingly, it would be Simon Gruber.

    What else goes wrong… well, Willis and Jackson pretty much lose all of their respective characters. People cite DIE HARD 4 as the point at which McClane stopped being McClane, but it’s not really true. Towards the end of DIE HARD 3 he stopped being the wrong man in the wrong place, and became just another generic action hero. And Jackson, who’d had a strong character in the first part of the movie, became just another generic action partner. They start doing absurd and painful-looking things for reasons that don’t make me care about what happens to them.

    I mean, as cliched as the thugs might’ve been in the “I hate n–gers” scene near the start of the movie (I don’t remember too much about them actually, would have to rewatch to check that) – at least it gives me a reason to care. They make McClane vulnerable to increase the tension of the scene. And it works – I obviously wouldn’t buy that he’d actually get killed, but there’s a genuine threat there that something seriously bad might happen to him. I know this guy doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him, so I can root for him to get out of this horrible situation that he’s in. The same is true for a lot of the “bomb” segments at the start. There’s none of that tension in the latter half of the movie, and as a direct result, I find myself not caring.

    Yeah… this is a movie of two halves, for me. The first half is the best DIE HARD action since, well, DIE HARD. The second half just drops the ball. It’s still not a bad movie or anything, but after the first half of the movie was as good as it was, I expected to care about what happened in the second half, and unfortunately I didn’t.

  13. If you want to have a full 1995 summer celebration, you need to include Crimson Tide as well (released 5/12/95)….

  14. Vern, I would really like a ‘reply’ function on these comments sections, or at least a ‘like’. There’s a lot of insightful stuff going on here and I’d like to know that someone I reply to is gonna know that I did it. Great write-up, tho, and I love how brilliantly drawn all the side characters are. I can’t believe Larry Bryggman only has 16 credits on his resume, he absolutely kills it in his performance. I thought at least he was doing a bunch of television that I just hadn’t seen. The bomb tech guy sketches out his character brilliantly in a handful of lines, and Greene and Camp are able to get miles of character building with what little they have to work with. Obviously this is everyone’s second favorite Die Hard (and one guy’s favorite, from the comments, and it’s close for me too), and McT is mos def the reason for that. He just gets it. Someone else commented on the ‘Just like LA football…’ line, and I like that Willis managed to reference not only Pulp Fiction, but also Last Boy Scout in the same movie. Very early meta of him.

  15. I like Simon’s henchmen on the whole more than Hans’. Theo is great, of course, but other than that it’s largely a bunch of blend generic terrorist types. On the other hand, aside from Lurch and Sonya, Simon’s guys seem to have a lot of fun dressing up and affecting American accents and whatnot. I think that helps keep the tremendous energy of the film from flagging.

  16. I think the only way a Die Hard 6 could be good is if they modeled it after JCVD, and it was a meta-commentary about Bruce Willis being an over-the-hill action star who’s tired of playing shitty pay-check roles, having to stop a terrorist plot during the movie premiere of Die Hardest. It’s the only way you get back to a point where Bruce Willis feels vulnerable and an under-dog, as opposed to the untouchable superhero the late sequels have turned him into.

  17. I think one of the great things about Die Hard with a Vengeance is its attention to detail with its side characters. They are all really well drawn and played. I think that’s what was missing from 2, 4 and 5. Die Hard movies aren’t just about Bruce Willis shooting people, it’s about showing the full scope of whatever situation he’s in so that you understand how small and vunerable McClane is.

    One of my favourite sequences in the Vengeance is one that doesn’t feature any Bruce Willis at all. It’s the sequence when the other cops have to defuse the “bomb” in the school. It’s like a little treat for the audience – “Hey you know those colleagues who McClane works with, from the start of the movie. Well they’re more than just providers of exposition. They’re going have a their own mini-movie right now”.

    The whole sequence is really well directed, there’s no sense that this is going to be a fake bomb. It still gets me every time I watch it that Charlie is willing to stay behind despite certain death to try defuse the bomb.

  18. Geoffreyjar, excellent point about the cops being good. I didn’t think about that. In part 1 he spends alot of time thinking the operator is stupid, the FBI is in the way, getting betrayed by Ellis. In this one everyone pretty much works together to get the job done. It’s nice.

  19. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 2:38 am

    I also liked that the cops were good (well, competent) in this one (and again, most of this is seen in the first half of the movie). I like how it’s a departure from the previous movies also – in DIE HARD the police, apart from Al, are pretty much there to hinder McClane and then become cannon-fodder, whereas in DIE HARD 2 (SPOILER ALERT? Do I need one here?) everyone pretty much ignores McClane, except the military guys who genuinely seem to respect McClane and what he’s doing. And then they turn out to be in league with the bad guys. I always liked that about DH2.

  20. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 2:42 am

    Oh, and I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned that Sam L Jackson’s character’s name in this one was called Jesus (Not “Hey Zeus!” as he points out at the start of the film.) I never liked that. Having the guy who leads McClane from darkness at the start of the film be called Jesus is just way too on-the-nose. It’d be like calling a drug-dealing gang leader villain “Satan”.

  21. Paul: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0001755/?ref_=tt_cl_t3

    It’s not so much for me that the cops are good, but are portrayed pretty realistically compared to the LAPD in the first one and the airport police in 2. The closest one to being goofy is the bomb tech, who actually has a semi-heroic moment towards the end in that fantastic school sequence, leading to that moment where we find out where the real bomb is. The great thing overall about WITH A VENGEANCE is how it’s way more like a 70’s cop movie (with a lot of top-notch action thrown in for good measure) than any of the films that came out in the wake of the first DH.

    Side note: one of Simon’s henchmen was Finnish pro wrestler Tony Halme. He wrestled briefly in the WWF before filming his role in this (the rumor was he was fired for taking the part, but Wikipedia says an injury scrapped their plans for him) as Ludvig Borga. Sadly (depending who you ask, as he had a pretty prickly reputation among his peers) he committed suicide in 2010 after a long bout of alcoholism and drug addiction.

  22. His name is Zeus, Paul, not Jesus. Zeus. He look Puerto Rican to you?

  23. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 5:51 am

    onthewall – IMDB got it wrong then, at least for the version of the film I saw, because when McClane and Jackson’s character first meet, McClane calls him “Zeus” after hearing some of the Harlem guys address him that way, and Jackson is like “Who are you calling Zeus? It’s Jesus!” (Pronounced hey-zeus.)

    Dunno if this scene isn’t in foreign versions of the film, but Sam L definitely says that his name ISN’T “Zeus” at the start of it in the one that I saw.

  24. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 5:53 am

    …And to add to that, it’s because McClane calls him “Zeus” and Sam L corrects him.

    Again, not sure if this was only in the particular version of the film that I saw. But it’s definitely Jesus in that one.

  25. I will always cherish watching the majority of the “Harlem” scenes being shot in my hometown (Washington Heights, NYC) as a kid. Watching John McClane in the living flesh was pretty fucking surreal and one of the all time best childhood memories of mine.

  26. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 5:57 am

    “Zeus: Why you keep calling me Jésus? I look Puerto Rican to you?
    John McClane: Guy back there called you Jésus.
    Zeus: He didn’t say Jésus. He said, “Hey, Zeus!” My name is Zeus.
    John McClane: Zeus?
    Zeus: Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don’t fuck with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus! You got a problem with that?
    John McClane: No, I don’t have a problem with that. ”

    …Oops.

    Ok ignore those last two posts then!

  27. Paul – Jackson also infamously corrects McClane pretty bluntly when he says “as in ‘Don’t-fuck-with-me-or-I’ll-shove-a-lightning-bolt-up-your-ass’ Zeus!”

  28. AH Paul himself beat me to it lol

  29. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 6:06 am

    Broddie – I was 100% sure it was “Jesus” too. Damn memory.

  30. I think I already said this in the O.G. DH3 review, but yeah, the first half is actually up there with Die Hard, and then the movie slowly crumbles but it’s practically a masterpiece compared to the garbage we’ve been getting these days. The action is clearly and competently shot, the buddy-cop dynamic and banter is awesome, and “McClane is lonely and hungover” works alot better now than it did in ’95 (where it was just too similar and too close to his performances in Last Boy Scout and Striking Distance) Also, every single promotional piece for every single movie always has someone saying “the city is another character!” but this is pretty much the only movie I can remember where the city is used this well. I’m glad you guys were pointing out how awesome his team is in this one, it’s such a nice change of pace from the Breakfast Club guy in part 1 and Dennis “I’m going to be an asshole the whole movie for no reason” Franz in the 2nd one. The Die Hard: Year One prequel comic series really missed a great opportunity by having his team in there, helping him solve crimes in the 70s.

    Of note: I don’t like the theatrical ending very much but the alternate one leaves a bad taste in my mouth – Simon is one of the more humane villains in a big summer action movie; the SAW-esque revenge scene seems like it was written for another movie and another character. Not to mention I think it re-used the Princess Bride iocane powder gag with McClane rigging it so no matter what Simon did, Simon would die, right?

    Also: Anthony Peck who played Young Cop in the first one, plays the cop here who gets killed and they steal his badge (which he uses the number to play the lottery with). Not the most graceful turn of events when McClane recognizes his badge #, but it’s still pretty clever. Not sure if Peck followed McClane home from LA, or if he’s just playing another guy.

    Also of note: during the “You were about to call me a n____, weren’t you!?!” scene, the movie kinda plays it for laughs and makes it seem like McClane totally wasn’t and Zeus was being an asshole and unjustly playing the race card. The novelization, however, mentions that McClane WAS about to call Zeus the N word, and felt great shame and embarrassment for losing his cool and almost doing it. I don’t like my action heroes to be racists but I do like that they added that bit of depth in there. (Glad they left it out of the movie though).

  31. I wonder if Hensleigh has given any thought to resurrecting SIMON SAYS, with some obvious retooling needed to separate itself from this.

    Vern mentioning TOY STORY at the end reminded me that one pivotal moment where the young cop pulls the gun on Zeus is actually recreated nearly beat for beat in THE INCREDIBLES, with Sam Jackson’s character no less.

  32. This is my favourite Die Hard too…like, I know the first one’s flawless and this one’s got it’s third act issues (I always loved that original ending too – I’ve got a feeling it maybe came across more upbeat and crowd pleasing on the page) but it has so much charm and moves with such momentum that I can always forgive its flaws. I also prefer Bruce’s performance in this one – With A Vengeance hands down is my favourite of his incarnations of the character. I also like how McTiernan subtly retcons the series by ignoring all mention of Die Harder. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Die Harder (I like it but never loved it like 1 and 3) and always saw this like it was the real Die Hard part 2 – especially when I think how it would have played with that original, darker ‘Part 2-style’ ending.

  33. My usual rant when it comes to Die Hard 3 is that I don’t actually think it departs from the single location rule of parts 1 and 2. Like Neal2Zod mentions, the old cliche that “the city is like another character” is actually true here. The way that New York is shot emphasizes the hot, cramped nature of the city. For much of the film, there is a sense of enclosure, which is accomplished largely by emphasizing the sheer number of people who exist in New York City on a hot day. As Vern mentions, McTiernan makes great use of extras in the background. The enclosed locations have just gotten bigger, from a skyscraper to an airport to an entire city. Live Free or Die Hard is the first film to really break from the single location rule (which make sense, since there was nowhere else to go after Die Hard 3).

    Also, count me as one of those people who prefer the theatrical ending. It’s a mess, but the original ending seemed too mean spirited.

  34. Anyone who doesn’t think New York is an enclosed location has never tried to exit it.

  35. @TheOriginalPaul

    It’s not “Jesus”. It’s “Zeus”.
    Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don’t fuck with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus! You got a problem with that?

  36. P.s. sorry, had not refreshed the page for hours and last comment was yours @TheOriginalPaul and wanted to be “the smart guy with the cool responce”!
    Refreshed after posting and saw the whole thing had been sorted out…bummer!

  37. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Patro – eh, don’t worry about it, I woulda done the same thing.

  38. The Original Paul

    June 2nd, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Erm, Petro even. Damn, I can’t even get someone’s name right today!

  39. Man, this movie is awesome up until the last act. It really is a shame.

  40. My favorite 1995 movie (and also my favorite movie of all time, coincidentally) is a pretty famous Michael Mann one. That came out at the end of the year, though, and not the summer, so it doesn’t qualify for this feature.

    (This has been an awkward and unsubtle reminder that I’m really looking forward to that Thief review, whenever it happens).

  41. Random memory associated with DHWAV:

    Spring of ’95, I was a young teenager whose favorite movie of all time was Die Hard. I was watching television and a commercial started up and it was obviously for a movie, though the commercial was the kind that really just showed a large chunk of an action scene.

    Part way through the commercial, I thought to myself, “man it would be awesome if this was for a new Die Hard movie.”

    And then there is a big dramatic reveal of Willis as McClane and it turned out to be a commercial for a new Die Hard and I about lost my mind.

    Also this is the first Die Hard movie I got to see in theaters and that was a glorious experience.

    Great write up, Vern, very enjoyable to read. Looking forward to the rest of the Summer of ’95 retrospective. What a great idea.

  42. The ending that they never shot that McTiernan refers to in the commentary would have been perfect (I won’t try and repeat what he said, it’s best expressed in his words). It meant that one of the more impressive action sequences would have been cut but I think it would have been worth it. It’s interesting reading the IMDB trivia that Sean Connery was offered the Simon role originally. I’d have a hard time picturing him and Alan Rickman as brothers, but maybe as Simon’s father it would have given the story a bit more emotional pull. It said he turned it down because he didn’t want to play a villain, something he would eventually do a few years later in that AVENGERS movie no one remembers now.

    I was just getting into watching R-rated stuff when this was coming out and I remember the trailers and commercials. Wanted to see it in theaters (and almost did) but didn’t until it was on HBO a year later. 1995 is a pretty great year for movies overall (SE7EN, USUAL SUSPECTS, CASINO, STRANGE DAYS, TOY STORY, this of course, APOLLO 13, CRIMSON TIDE, and that movie JTS referred to which is also my all-time favorite), though a tough one for me personally. One escape I did have was the movies, and oddly enough I was drawn to more mature fare that year. I watched a lot of stuff on cable. The big ones I remember were ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, THE CHINA SYNDROME, THE NATURAL, and a lot of others that escape me at the moment. I was also riveted with HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, something that kind of opened the door for me that television could be much more than cartoons and pro wrestling.

    The 5 movies I remember seeing that summer were CASPER, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (for some reason forgotten to me, I saw both of these twice in theaters, and not necessarily by choice either), APOLLO 13 (which I’d love to see a review of here, whenever it’s on I always watch), BATMAN FOREVER, and THE MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS MOVIE (not by choice either).

  43. grimgrinningchris

    June 3rd, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Now I really really want Vern to review Dungeons & Dragons. Much much can be written about that one.

  44. This is a great film for the summer of 95, no question. I saw this baby in opening night and my friends and I were all Die Hard fanatics (indeed, the week before this came out, I was in NYC with one of my obsessed friends and he ordered a VCR up to our hotel room and had the cassettes of Die Hard 1&2 with him and put it in to watch with some late night room service.)

    But something about it felt dry to me, it fell flat and this is my least favorite of the films (let’s not even count A Good Day, because that’s more like fanfic than an actual film), it just didn’t feel all that original. I thought the construction bait and switch was good and the school bomb scene was fantastic, but it just never felt like a real threat. Sam Jackson was great of course and this is one of the last non-phoned in Bruce Willis performances, but it just didn’t ignite for me. I think that a post-Pulp Fiction world made it hard to take these movies seriously anymore. Plus McClane just isn’t that much fun in this one. His one-liners in the first two make the character and here they just didn’t feel clever or fresh to me. I still enjoyed it and have seen it several times since.

    But Johnny Comes Marching Home is no Ode To Joy and there’s no awesome betrayals like William Sadler and John Amos in Die Harder, and while the school bomb is a great scene, the one where they fry the copter in #1 and down the plane in #2 are unmatched when it comes to upping the stakes.

    John McT is no slouch, but he was only truly great in this 80s. By the time this came round, I feel like his time was past.

  45. Back in the early very 2000’s (sometime in 2001 I think), my family rented all three (at the time) DIE HARD movies and watched them on three consecutive nights, that was the first time I saw DIE HARD which is a classic of course, but unfortunately I remember thinking DIE HARD 2 was a bit crappy, sorry, however I remember thinking WITH A VENGEANCE was a big improvement and it is by far the best DIE HARD sequel even now (heck, especially now) in my opinion, it’s an interesting blend of 80’s action and 90’s smartass humor.

  46. I like DIE HARD 4.0 a bit better, I think as a whole. ( The R -rated cut should have been called 4.1) I really think VENGEANCE takes a dive in the last part. Whereas DIGITAL DIE HARD flows better throughout the whole piece. I don´t care anymore if it is PG-13. I think I have matured that way.

  47. The Original Paul

    June 4th, 2015 at 4:26 am

    I rewatched DIE HARD 2 recently; and while there’s a few too many wholly obnoxious characters in it for my taste (Lorenzo in particular), it has its moments. I was particularly struck by the scene where we see William Sadler’s face as he guides a commercial airliner to its doom. That’s some scary-ass shit right there. He’s not a fun villain like Hans Gruber of course, but at least he’s not just an inferior copy of him like Simon.

  48. Movie came out when I was 10, one of the first R-rated films I saw. Even looking back on it today it really feels like it was made for fucking adults. The violence, or threat of violence, seems more tangible somehow, less cartoony than most action films. It probably has a lot to do with the lack of digital abstraction, but I think even at the time it had more credibility and authenticity than its peers.

    I can’t get behind the Simon hate, just because this was my introduction to Irons (or was it Scar?) and I found him fucking terrifying in the role.

  49. I love when movies gain stature over time.

    I seem to recall WITH A VENGEANCE getting kind of a “it’s good I guess, but not as good as the first two” reaction when it came out. I’m glad that 20 years have made it a classic.

  50. And now it´s popular to shit on part two for some reason even though it is objectively awesome. People are strange.

  51. The jest seems to be: DIE HARD 5 is not DIE HARD enough and DIE HARD 2 is too much like DIE HARD.

  52. Shoot – yeah I’ve noticed alot of bashing of part 2 online (not really so much here but in other places) – and I still don’t get the whole “it’s too much like Die Hard” complaint everyone has. Sure the William Atherton news reporter character shouldn’t have been in it, and it probably didn’t need to take place on actual Christmas again, but other than that it couldn’t be more different. The setting (the huge airport with the tunnels and runways + the snow blizzard) is totally different, the villian is a 180 from the first one while still being awesome, the scheme is totally different (as a kid I thought from the trailers that they literally just took over the airport, I’m glad that wasn’t the case), and is 2 the only one where the villains don’t want money? (I can’t remember what the villain wanted in 5 to be honest). There’s a freaking giant snowmobile chase in it for crying out loud, and people are all like, “it’s basically a remake of Die Hard”. What??

  53. Completely random and I guess for all of you super irrelevant note: The explosion at the beginning of that movie can be heard at the end of RMB’s* album WIDESCREEN**.

    *German electronic music duo from the 90s
    **a super underrated masterpiece of that genre, full of vocal snippets from all kinds of movies

  54. The Original Paul

    June 14th, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Neal2Zod – a bit late to reply to your comment now (although I replied to a two-year-old comment without realising it the other day!)

    I put the whole “it’s too like Die Hard” thing down to one line that Willis says: “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” And the fact that both films take place at Christmas. Honestly if it wasn’t for those two things, I doubt that these comments would even be made. The settings, characters, villains and even to a certain extent the plot, are all so different.

  55. The Original Paul

    June 17th, 2015 at 6:56 am

    So I just rewatched this for the first time in many, many years. And for the most part it leaves the same impression.

    I think I undersold the last third or so of the movie though. In particular I remembered McClane acting very much unlike McClane, and for no good reason. Re-watching it though, there IS a reason: at the point he starts doing acrobatic ziplines onto ships, he still believes that there’s a bomb in a school that’s going to explode.

    I like that McClane goes through a ton of shit in this movie as well, but it gets to be way too much by the end. He starts looking like Superman or something, plus bloodstains. As good a job as Willis does of making him look absolutely beaten down, the guy should be dead about three times over by the time he faces Simon Gruber on that boat. So while he’s unmotivated, he pretty much has the endurance of Wile E Coyote at the end (he and Zeus might as well be GI Joes when it comes to the bridge rappel scene). I’m not a fan of that. Also, why does he announce himself to Gruber when he’s in the tunnel? Does he not realise what’s going to happen (a shit-ton of water will be dumped on him)?

    Jeremy Irons is still Alan Rickman-lite, only not as fun. Honestly, everything about this character feels lazy. I can’t agree with the positive comments about his entourage either. I think the fact that we don’t get to see them until halfway through the movie doesn’t help, but mostly they’re just the standard scowling Eastern Europeans. The blonde shoots her partner, which I think is supposed to be a shocking moment, but if the FBI guy hadn’t described the relationship between them much earlier in the movie I don’t think it would even have registered to me how much of a betrayal this was. She’s not really shown any affection for him – heck, she’s spent most of the movie with the same fixed permascowl on her face. As for the rest, I’ve finished watching the movie ten minutes ago and I couldn’t name one of them, or describe anything distinct about any of them. The villains from the original DIE HARD are way better than this.

    I do like the cops though. I’d forgotten about the guy who stays behind in the school with the bomb. As others have pointed out in the comments, he’s got his own story, and it’s a great one. Mostly the police in this movie do seem to work as an efficient team, and the officers that we see are likeable enough. Again, it’s a real departure from the previous movies, and a pleasant one. Yeah, I really like the good guys. It’s just a pity about the bad guys.

    So all in all… my opinion hasn’t really changed. This one’s really great up until the point that McClane and Zeus start chasing around after gold. At which point it becomes just ok. It really suffers from weak villain syndrome, but that’s partly made up for by generally good direction. McTiernan knows what he’s doing when it comes to directing movies like this.

  56. John Doman (Rawls on THE WIRE, and more recently appearing in a few episodes of HOUSE OF CARDS and Carmine Falcone on GOTHAM) makes an appearance in this as the foreman, barely recognizable because of a hardhat and mustache.

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