I went off the grid this afternoon: I delivered all the copy I had to and then snuck off to see Die Hard 4. There's something about nipping into a cinema in the daytime; although you can have your phone and you could walk out at any time, you don't and you don't. You agree to stay there for two hours and in more ways than just your phone, you switch off.
I love thrillers. I also love character and I know that if your dialogue isn't there, you don't have any characters. I might relish the plots of someone like Steven Moffat but even his intricacies and cleverness don't work if the characters aren't right or if what they're saying is just telling me the plot.
There's a bit of that in Die Hard 4. There's an awful lot of it in most thrillers and it's why I doubt I could name you five great ones. At least not without handing over two of the places to the Bourne flms. Similarly, how many great detective stories are there? I can think of 122 of them but they're all episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street.
But I go to thrillers and I go to detective films really wanting them to work. Er, that sounds like I go to comedies hoping they'll flop. I mean, I really want thrillers to work. There is something exultant about characters and a story that burn up the screen and that seem to really move, to scoop you up and carry you into mayhem. That seem to do what writers have trademarked as going on a journey.
I was exhausted at the end of Die Hard 4 but it didn't seem like John McClane had gone anywhere. He was still the man he was at the top and that was disappointing. It's also a mawkish film at times and it also uses a lot of the apparently hip thriller terms du jour, most prominently this "off the grid" rubbish. It wasn't rubbish when we heard it in The Bourne Identity, but it is is now.
Yet if I don't think Die Hard was 100% great, I seem to be thinking it was 70% good. I am unforgiving, usually, and if there's a moment or eight that reek of the-writer-couldn't-do-any-better or, worse, that the filmmakers think I want a pat the dog scene, I'm gone for good. Last time I nipped out to a cinema on a working day was to see Superman and I strolled out of there about half an hour in.
Die Hard 4 definitely has moments and it had momentum, I did want to see what happened next. I'm arguing three sides here, the two obvious rivals that it hasn't got great characters and it does have big thrills, and then the third side that the thrills don't work.
Some do. Actually, many do. But if I'm to forgive characterisation and wallow in spectacle, I have to believe it. It doesn't have to be believable, I just have to buy it. So a film can end with the most almighty impossibility and I'll be there if the film has carried me to it. The ending of DIe Hard works well - at least, the very end does; there's a hugely convenient leap right before it that disappoints me - and a lot of the start does too. As long as I can believe the hero could get out the way he does, I'll take anything. When Die Hard goes wrong, it's because the escape isn't believable.
This won't spoil the film because it's in the trailer anyway, but at one early point John McClane sends a car flying up into the air and into a helicopter.
I buy the destruction of the helicopter. I buy the car going through it. I just can't buy it taking off into the air.
It supposedly happens because he sends it hurtling into a ticket booth or somesuch and I can't make that connection, I can't make that work. Whereas moments before there is a scene with a fire hydrant and the helicopter which I do buy even though according to the people who write up goofs on IMDb, it's physically impossible.
I think what I'm slowly realising is that believability is skin deep. It's a very delicate line and it must also be personal taste. Like a pain threshold.
Now will I please get to work on my ten pages of script?