Best of big-screen Bruce
now it’s clear that nothing and no one can kill Bruce Willis, whose fifth film in the Die Hard franchise, the horribly titled A Good Day to Die Hard opens in Australia today. It is not his finest hour. At 58, he still wreaks havoc and looks great in a tight T-shirt but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself very much. Christy Lemire looks back at five of the best performances in Willis’s eclectic, enduring career:
(1988): Loads of ladies, young and old, had a huge crush on Willis as the quick-witted David Addison on Moonlighting. It was the role that set the stage for the character that would go on to define his career: wisecracking New York cop John McClane. Willis is at his charismatic best in this ’80s action classic: swaggering, smart-alecky and resourceful, but, at his core, just a regular guy trying to outwit the Euro baddies. The fact that he’s not a superhero actually gives the character more power.
(1994): One of the most important and influential movies of the 1990s, of course, with Willis in a role that lets him put all his talents on display at once. As a boxer named Butch who’s supposed to throw a fight but ends up winning it instead, Willis is tough but tender, powerful yet vulnerable. Quentin Tarantino is in love with words and Willis is an excellent fit for his peculiar brand of verbosity; he’s also very much up for the, um, many freaky and physical demands of appearing in a Tarantino film.
(1999): If Willis’s characters in the ’80s were all about cunning and bravado, the late ’90s and 2000s frequently found him in a more introspective mode, especially in this hell-of-a-twist blockbuster from M. Night Shyamalan. (The two reteamed the next year for another supernatural thriller, Unbreakable, in which Willis is also very good in a low-key way.) Willis is the ghost at the centre of this ghost story, a child psychologist working with a little boy (Haley Joel Osment) who, famously, sees dead people. The muting of Willis’s action-star persona is what’s so effective here; his quiet melancholy adds to the chilly mood.
(2012): Wes Anderson’s best live-action movie since Rushmore is all about the kids: two precocious pre-teens who fall in love and run off together but have nowhere to go on an insular New England island. Still, the adults provide an excellent supporting cast, including Willis as the island’s lonely sheriff on the hunt for the runaways. There’s great subtlety and sadness to his performance; you look at his character and the middle-aged rut he’s gotten himself into and pray that these love-struck kids don’t similarly lose their spark.
(2005): Willis once again plays a cop (pictured, left) – John Hartigan, the last honest cop in this corrupt town – searching for an 11-year-old girl who would go on to become an exotic dancer played by Jessica Alba. In Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s gloriously stylised graphic novel-film noir mash-up, Willis is the traditionally hardened, world-weary antihero looking to clear his name. It’s a performance filled with both regret and determination, much of which he spells out in dramatic but understated voiceover.