The Cat’s in the Cradle and John McClane’s in Russia: A Good Day to Die Hard

Review of A Good Day to Die Hard, Directed by John Moore

By ALEXIS NEAL

Where does our favorite modern-day cowboy go on vacation to get away from it all? Why, Mother Russia, of course, to track down his missing son—an apparent ne’er do well who’s been incarcerated (in Russia) for unknown reasons. McClane quickly discovers that his son Jack, far from being a shiftless punk criminal, is in fact a real live spy (albeit not a terribly bright one). Of course, by the time McClane makes this important discovery, he’s managed to muck up Jack’s mission and, with a major assist from the bad guys, destroy a decent chunk of Moscow. Fortunately, McClane is only too happy to help his son pick up the pieces of his shattered mission: to protect the kidnapped/rescued political prisoner Yuri Komarov and obtain Komarov’s super secret file that will dish up all the dirt on a corrupt governmental bigwig. Twists and turns and big ‘reveals’ abound. Plus: Chernobyl!

As a, well, ‘die hard’ fan of the Die Hard movies, I confess I was anticipating this film with rather mixed emotions. I actually thought Live Free or Die Hard was a decent film, not least because of Bruce Willis; but also because Mary Elizabeth Winstead portrayed Lucy McClane with a feistiness that had more to do with pluck, tenacity, and strength of mind than any sort of real skill or physical strength.  Unfortunately, Jai Courtney doesn’t invest Jack with the same mulish determination and uncowed bravery. He’s tough enough, sure—lots of muscles and guns and what-have-you—but he lacks spirit. He’s ultimately just a pissed off kid who’s mad at his dad and wants to serve his country, and when circumstances (and his dad) get in the way, he’s awfully quick to throw in the towel. Then, too, there’s a vaguely Sam Worthington-esque quality about Courtney that makes him a rather unlikely choice for a member of such a personality-filled family. I suppose forgettability could be an asset for a spy, but he seemed kind of … dull. Which may be why they hired him—after all, we’re all here to see Bruce show the Russkies how we do things in the States, so maybe Courtney’s job was just to lurk in the background and look pretty while shooting guns and shooting snide remarks and angsty looks at his dad. The thing is, he wasn’t nearly as nondescript in Jack Reacher (yet another action film starring a charismatic 80’s icon). In Jack Reacher, however, Courtney was a villain, and the miasma of evil that surrounded him made him crackle a bit more than he does here.

In other news, Sebastian Koch, who I’d never heard of, does a jolly good job as Komarov, the stunts are creative and satisfying, and there are several amusing visual and audio nods to the beloved Die Hards of days gone by. There’s even a face-to-face encounter between McClane and the villain wherein the villain pretends to be a victim. (Sniff. Hans Gruber, you were the best.)

As you might expect, this film has a lot to say about parents and kids. Unlike Live Free or Die Hard, wherein McClane and his (temporary) sidekick had to rescue Lucy, A Good Day to Die Hard casts kin as the sidekick. Though McClane originally sets out to rescue Jack, he spends the bulk of the film trying to help Jack complete his mission. This allows for a lot more back-and-forth between the two of them and an opportunity directly address the conflict between them. Said conflict apparently boils down to: John was never around and Jack resents him for being absent. John, on the other hand, thought he was doing a good thing by working—setting a good example, providing for his family, getting scumbags off the streets, etc. The exploration of these differing perceptions is somewhat truncated (there are lots and lots of Russians to kill, after all), but what there is seems to boil down to two comments—one directed at children, and another at parents.

To children, A Good Day to Die Hard offers the simple reminder that parents are fallible. They screw up. They miss out on stuff you wish they’d been around for, and they make all sorts of mistakes that drive you bonkers and, in some cases, cause you serious emotional pain. But at the end of the day, even loving parents get it wrong sometimes. Most goofs were probably more the result of boneheaded thinking and normal human error than of any actual malice or a desire to ruin your life. That doesn’t mean that what they did (or didn’t do) was ok. But at some point, you have to let go, accept them for who they are, and recognize their overtures of affection for what they are—even if said overtures involve offering to help you kill some Russian bad guys.

As Christians, we are familiar with this concept of grace and forgiveness that does not condone the offending action. We are aware that we have sinned against a holy God more than anyone—including our parents, however absent—has ever sinned against us. Because Christ died on the cross in our place and bore in His body the penalty for our sin, God has forgiven us. This grace we have received we can now extend to others, including the parents who, to varying degrees, messed up our lives. And we know that our lives are not controlled by the shortcomings of our fallen parents; we rest in the hand of the God of the universe who loved us enough to die for us. We know that He is sovereign even over our parents’ frailty and sin, and He has promised that He will use everything—even the painful rejection and confusion of childhood—for our good and His glory. This knowledge frees us to love our broken, sinful parents, to view them with compassion and affection, even if our parents never get the chance to redeem themselves by saving us from international terrorists.

To parents, Good Day to Die Hard offers a modern day action retelling of Harry Chapin’s classic hit ‘Cat’s in the Cradle.’ If you prioritize outside activities over family, you pay a very real relational cost. Granted, we’d all be terribly disappointed if John McClane was too busy being a good dad to save Nakatomi Plaza from terrorists thieves, or save Dulles from whoever that psycho general guy was, or save New York from Jeremy Irons or save Lucy McClane from a less-than-terrifying Timothy Olyphant. Saving the day makes for great movies. It may not make for great families.

This is a particularly helpful reminder for those in ministry positions. The work being done is of vital importance—the very Kingdom of God is at stake! The Gospel must be preached! Churches must be run! Books must be written! There is so much to do, so much work to be done, that it is, I suspect, all too easy to let worthwhile ministry suck up every last ounce of time and energy. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

Several Christian authors and bloggers have spoken out on this issue. Tim Challies observes

You Are a Father Before a [Insert Vocation Here]. I’ve always found it instructional in my own line of work that a man is qualified to be a pastor on the basis of his family life; he is not qualified to be a husband or father because of his successful ministry. It is true in any field that being a father takes priority over being a doctor or pastor or author or athlete or truck driver. Every man will need to remind himself often that his higher priority is his marriage and his family; he will need to ask himself if he is prioritizing well. […] A father needs to be willing to make difficult decisions regarding his vocation if he finds that it is interfering with his higher priorities. He may need to abandon a career or accept a lower-paying position if his current vocation is keeping him away from his wife and children too often.

And he’s not the only one to reach this conclusion. We must all—not just pastors, but lawyers, doctors, policemen, and government officials as well—remember that while we are first and foremost children of God bought by the blood of the Lamb, the primary job He’s given us here on earth is not our ‘job’ at all.

It’s our families.

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Alexis Neal is an attorney in the Washington, D.C., area. She regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.

  • Mike Giles

    Funny you should mention that song: Harry Chapin’s classic hit ‘Cat’s in the Cradle. I’ve always hated it. Because there seems to be – even at the end – no recognition on the son’s part, of what his fathers life was like, even as he’s reliving it. Did he assume that all the good things in his life just appeared out of thin air? I would think that at some point he would think: “So this is what it’s like to support and raise a family”. “It’s hard”. “So maybe it wasn’t the case that my dad just didn’t care enough, to want to hang with me”.

  • http://quantum-meruit.blogspot.com Alexis Neal

    Mike,

    Thanks for the comment! I actually never got the impression that the ‘son’ in Cat’s in the Cradle actively RESENTED his dad for being absent. I always figured it was more of an encouragement to ‘cherish them while you have them because one day they will be grown up and busy’ (since, as you note, supporting and raising a family is hard and doesn’t leave a lot of time for one’s own parents) combined with a warning that by de-prioritizing your kids, you may be teaching them to de-prioritze you. I think the song is more about the dad, and how in hindsight he wishes he used his time differently. And I certainly don’t think the take-away should be ‘working and providing for your family is stupid–you should just play foosball with your kids all the time.’ But, like anything else, you can work TOO much, and operate under the mistaken impression that an extra car or fancier toys or nicer clothes (or, in John McClane’s case, catching another bad guy) or whatever means more to your kids than quality time. That’s the situation I think Chapin was addressing (though I can certainly see why you’d be frustrated by the song’s lack of affirmation of the father’s provision).

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://dtmmr.com Dan O.

    Die Hard has certainly never been shy about going bigger with its sequels, but this time around the series really does feel like a shadow of its former self, with problems that people may have had with the last film. Solid review Alexis.


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