FROM THE PRESS NOTES
Bruce Willis reprises his iconic role as police detective John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard, set against the backdrop of deadly corruption and political vendetta in Russia. McClane arrives in Moscow to track down his estranged son, Jack, (Jai Courtney), and is stunned to discover he’s working undercover to protect a government whistleblower, Komarov. With their own necks on the line, the McClanes are forced to overcome their differences in order to get Komarov to safety and thwart a potentially disastrous crime in the most desolate place on Earth – Chernobyl.
When McClane learns the truth about his son’s profession, he calls him the “007 of Plainfield, New Jersey.” But it’s a long way from Plainfield to Moscow, and John and Jack are about to have a family reunion they will never forget. It is now 25 years since Die Hard exploded into theaters, launching a new cinematic hero, John McClane, and changing the paradigm of action movies. McClane is identifiable and relatable. An ordinary man forced by circumstances to attempt an extraordinary task. That is what separates him from the comic book heroes of most action movies, and has made McClane one of the most popular characters in film history.
Near the entrance to Freedom Square Park in Budapest, across from the U.S. Embassy, the spirits of two American icons — one real, one cinematic, both mythical — intersect in the shadow of a Soviet war monument. A bronzed statue of Ronald Reagan stares down the 16-foot solid concrete memorial, topped by the USSR star. Just steps away, inside a gargantuan building once housing Hungary’s communist TV station, legendary Bruce Willis strolls through a makeshift set that doubles for a Brooklyn police precinct.
The specter of the former Soviet Union looms large over the park, the Reagan statue, and the storyline of A Good Day to Die Hard. During the waning years of the Iron Curtain, the movie’s Russian antagonists, Komarov and Chagarin, initiated a plan to steal tens of millions of dollars’ worth of plutonium from the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Twenty-seven years later, the finale of this larcenous symphony will be played out in Moscow, its crescendo reverberating through the halls of Russian courts, the fortunes of powerful oligarchs, and the lives of two unexpected American interlopers: John McClane and his son Jack.
The Brooklyn police station sequence, where McClane learns his wayward son has been jailed in Moscow, marks the character’s first appearance in the film, as well as the first day of shooting for Bruce Willis. It’s a drizzly Budapest morning in early May, but the intermittent rain hasn’t dampened the spirits of the crew, or Willis, who seems content stepping back into the shoes of the role he originated 25 years ago. Willis is McClane, and he embraced the opportunity to pay another visit to the beloved character that has a habit of finding himself in the wrong place at the right time. Does trouble find John McClane or does John McClane seek it out? “Well, he’s certainly attracted to trouble,” says the actor, “but yes, trouble also seems determined to find him.”
“I find it an interesting exercise to reach for the bar we set with the series, and I enjoy checking in with McClane at different stages in his life,” Willis continues. “In this story, he’s at a point where men tend to reflect on their past. For McClane, it’s the estranged relationship with his son. They haven’t spoken in some time, and the first news he’s received of him is about his arrest in Moscow.” The premise for the script (written by Skip Woods and Jason Keller) originated with an idea from Willis, who was interested in exploring a father-son story against a dangerous backdrop that would force them to find a way to overcome their differences to survive. Their differences are plentiful and deep. “Jack does things by the book, and John seldom follows the rules and uses whatever is at hand to deal with the situation,” Willis explains. Says producer Alex Young: “The question became, how can we take the spine of this – a relationship between a father and son, who are cut from the same cloth but have a strained past and big misunderstandings – and put them in a place where they’re trapped and can’t call for help?”
Moscow, with its wealth, nefarious underworld and geographical maze, filled the bill. It’s a city of enormous size and scale, yet one that, owing to its history, can be placed on lockdown with little delay. It remains a major hotspot for international intrigue and has an unmatched reputation for show trials of political prisoners – such as the one that sets the stage for this narrative.
Producer Wyck Godfrey says the challenge of seeing McClane “apply his skills in a foreign land, where he’s a fish out of water, is an intriguing element of the movie. He doesn’t know the language, the culture or the lay of the land, so he has to do something he hasn’t done before – rely on someone else.” That someone else is his son. Like previous Die Hard movies, A Good Day to Die Hard centers on family members in peril and John McClane’s willingness to do anything to save them. In the first two movies it was his wife; in the fourth, his daughter. Now his son is in trouble, and McClane fears it may already be too late to stop Jack’s spiral into a life of crime. “It’s something John can’t ignore because it involves his family – and as we learned in previous Die Hard films, you don’t screw around with John McClane’s family,” says John Moore.
Moore embraced the opportunity of helming a new Die Hard picture and working with Willis. “Bruce is the most zealous guardian at the gate of what’s right for John McClane, and what’s right for Die Hard,” says the director. Nobody knows the character and the franchise better than Bruce.”
Willis’ John McClane is dropped off at the airport by his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, reprising her role from Live Free or Die Hard). He arrives in Moscow and learns that Jack, far from being a criminal, is a CIA operative, three years into an undercover mission to protect the Russian thief-turned-whistleblower, Komarov. Having grown a conscience, Komarov is determined to testify against his former partner, Chagarin, and thwart his ambitions for higher political office. “This is a twist on the usual scenario in which McClane is the unexpected party guest who ruins some criminal mastermind’s well-conceived plan,” says Young. “This time, he spoils his own son’s painstaking and dangerous undercover operation.
The role of Jack McClane went to young Australian actor Jai Courtney, who co-starred in the 2010 season of the series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and as Tom Cruise’s fearsome adversary in Jack Reacher. “I auditioned a couple of times for the role of Jack McClane, and of course wasn’t expecting anything to come of it,” Jai recalls, “because I knew they were casting a really wide net. I had just wrapped Jack Reacher in Pittsburgh, and was homebound to Sydney. Literally, I was walking down the jet way to my connecting flight at LAX when my agent called and said, don’t leave – they want you to read with Bruce! I did a test with him a week later, and some time afterwards got the good news. It’s been a fantastic experience. Bruce is one of those guys I grew up watching on screen and the Die Hard franchise is so iconic.” Adds Willis: “Jai got the character and he just seemed like family – like a McClane.” And Moore notes that, “Jai brings an intelligence and suaveness to the character. But he’s also a much more physical presence than we initially envisaged for Jack. But once Jai auditioned, we said, let’s go with the big guy because he’s right for the role.”
As the son of New York’s most famous cop, Courtney’s Jack proves that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He displays his father’s sense of duty, courage and willingness to place his life in danger to protect others. “Jack has been living as a Russian, speaking the language, and infiltrating different groups to try to get the goods on Chagarin and make sure he isn’t able to harm Komarov in prison,” says Courtney. “He’s shocked when his dad arrives at a crucial moment and blows his cover. He doesn’t want his help; in fact he wants nothing to do with him. Jack is determined to prove he can do this on his own terms and that he’s his own man.” With Komarov’s trial date approaching, Jack intentionally has himself jailed so he can keep a closer eye on the Russian. When the two men are brought to court together, Jack assumes he has everything under control. He does not. Chagarin has sent his henchman Alik (Rasha Bukvic) and a paramilitary team to bust Komarov out of the courtroom. A thunderous explosion suddenly hurls spectators and jurors against and through walls. “The bad guys break in to nab Komarov, and we’ve turned it into a Brechtian drama,” jokes director John Moore. “Blowing up a building is not the usual way to grab somebody because the risk of injury to the target is quite high. But because Jack and Komarov are in bulletproof safety boxes, it’s quite ingenious.”
Jack and Komarov manage to flee the destruction, as a stunned John McClane runs after them. Jack and Komarov commandeer a truck, and, with Alik in close pursuit and John bringing up the rear in his own “borrowed” vehicle, they embark on one of the most spectacular chase sequences ever put on film. “We shot over highways, through narrow streets, across bridges, totally destroying dozens of high end cars,” says Moore. “It’s epic.” Much of the action was captured on Moscow’s famed Garden Ring, a circular avenue in the city’s center consisting of 17 streets and 15 squares. “It’s the equivalent of shooting a huge car chase on New York’s Fifth Avenue, or London’s Piccadilly Circus,” Moore explains. “But we had to shoot there to capture the scale of the chase.”
Many thought filming on the Garden Ring was inconceivable because it’s impossible to shut down the major (and often gridlocked) roadway. But with the help of Moscow’s police department, Moore “filmed the hell out of the chase,” capturing vehicles speeding over 150 mph. Careful scheduling and preparation also helped. “The planning of the chase was a thing of beauty in and of itself,” adds Moore. “We got in and out there like Special Forces.” With Jack’s cover literally blown in the aftermath of the chase, he and his father try to get Komarov safely out of Moscow. The shell-shocked Russian suddenly finds himself stuck between the feuding McClanes, a more dangerous proposition than prison, as John appears to be half-cocked and fully loaded. But the three men are intent on making their way out of town by any means necessary, and begin to form an uneasy alliance.
Says internationally acclaimed actor Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others): “Komarov is wary of the McClanes and tries to find a way to exert himself into the decision making. He has cooperated with the CIA in his efforts to nail Chagarin, but he has his own ideas of how to take down his enemy, and his own ambitions about life after prison. Komarov has a daughter (Yulia Snigir) with whom he has a difficult relationship, so he understands and is sympathetic with John McClane’s estrangement with his son.”
“Komarov is mysterious,” Koch continues. “He’s not always sympathetic, and we don’t know what’s driving him. I’ve been allowed to fully explore the character, often just relying on little movements, looks and expressions. John has been really open to that, and it’s been rewarding to be able to play a complex, intelligent person in the midst of all the chaos.” While possessing an action movie pedigree, Koch’s on-screen interactions with Willis and Courtney provide A Good Day to Die Hard with underlying elements of road movies and escape thrillers. The characters embark on a risky physical and emotional journey as they navigate menacing terrain and circumstances. The trio is eventually cornered in the ballroom of an old hotel and menaced by a gang of Russian hitmen. Eschewing the stereotype tracksuits and American jogging shoes, Alik and his crew look as if they own the bank – not steal from it. Rasha Bukvic remarks, “Alik is a sophisticated, cultured gentleman who dresses impeccably and views killing as just another one of his many talents. He is furious these two American cowboys ruined his plans to finish this assignment quickly and go to the ballet. He intends to make them suffer for his inconvenience, but learns the hard way that not dying when expected is a McClane family trait.”
Under a hail of gunfire, the McClanes manage a desperate escape, and must regroup to figure out how to get to rescue Komarov, who is now in the hands of Alik’s men. Jack McClane is out of answers, and must turn to John for help. Says Jai Courtney: “Jack takes a methodical approach to his work, probably out of a backlash to his father’s knack for winging it and hoping for the best. But he’s now in a situation where there’s no book to guide him, he has no answers and is at the breaking point. His dad’s instincts are to never quit, regardless of the cost, and in this terrible situation Jack sees that very clearly – maybe for the first time. It gives Jack deeper insight and respect for John’s values. It’s a turning point.”
As they try to slip out of Moscow and make their way to Chernobyl, the McClanes encounter an assortment of the bizarre, beautiful and lethal elements of Moscow nightlife: expensive cars, gorgeous women, and relentless threats from a brutally powerful adversary. They will need each other, and all the luck they can get.
“This is a father-son story in which they are trying to complete a dangerous mission while also attempting to mend a fractured relationship,” says Wyck Godfrey. “Jack’s first reaction is, Get out of here, dad, I don’t need your help. But what he really wants is to hear his father say, you’re doing great, son, I’m proud of you. And that’s the beauty of this story. We’re playing out a relationship drama in the midst of a thrilling Die Hard story.” Adds Jason Keller: “John and Jack find themselves off the grid, in deep trouble, with no help. Jack doesn’t know what to do, and his father pulls him back and says that we can do this. And the key moment in the film happens when Jack chooses to swallow his pride and accept John’s help. Now you have two McClanes working together, which is more than our bad guys ever bargained for.”