Action Stars — Bruce Willis

Posted: August 17, 2010 in Film, Martin Keller, News
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


[Posted by: Martin Keller]

Profile:  As I sat down to write this article I realized I really like Bruce Willis.  I didn’t know why, but it deeply disturbed me.  Thus, deep soul searching was begun to uncover the core of this fondness for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.  The results of my search disturbed me more.  I perused his IMDB credits and mentally checked off what I’d seen.  I read a short bio on Wikipedia and watched some fan videos on YouTube.  I polled friends and realized that along with the rest of the country, and perhaps world, almost everyone I know likes Bruce Willis.  Even thinking back to the Willis movies I hated, Armageddon springs to mind immediately, I didn’t hate him, it was stupid Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler.  I realized that even after so much fluff I still liked him; he’s an actor that I am invariably attracted to, regardless of the quality of his work.  (I also feel this way about Clive Owen.)  But Willis has made some good flicks and is the star of one of the essential action film franchises, Die Hard.  There is a certain charm and likability to him.  He got his start in comedy on Moonlighting opposite Cybill Sheperd and has brought the ability to deliver a line and be funny into his more dramatic roles.  Even when he’s being hunted down by German terrorists and climbing through a ventilation shaft the quips are still coming, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”  This is John McClane coping, and that is the crux of Bruce Willis’ success: coping.  He’s just trying to get by, minding his own business, and Boom! some ancient, superhuman orange-haired woman comes crashing into the back of his cab.  (The Fifth Element, 1997)  And in that way he’s just like us: he’s a regular guy, who just so happens to be forced into amazingly dangerous and outrageous situations who not only manages to overcome these odds, but seems to thrive in these difficult situations.  He is who we are and who we want to be. 
Willis initially achieved mainstream success on the show Moonlighting (1985-1989) and he had done a few movies, but it was in 1988 when everything changed for Bruce Willis and all action movies to come.  Die Hard was a box office success and a critical success.  It was nominated for four Oscars in the film editing, sound, sound editing and visual effects categories.  It had small twists and the movie wasn’t just a vehicle for mindless action, as with Commando, the story, the acting, and action all add up to something that the non-action moviegoer could come to like.  After Die Hard, Willis’ career has been up and down.  He’s had other action roles in the Die Hard sequels, The Fifth Element, and Last Man Standing (1996).  He’s done some comedy in Hudson Hawk (1991) which he co-wrote and The Whole NIne Yards (2000) and its sequel.  His collaborations with M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) afforded him some credibility as not only a box office draw but as an able dramatic actor.  He has managed to stay in the cultural view for the past twenty-five years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere with the action comedy Red coming out this year and more projects filming or in pre-production slated for release in the next few years. 
Quote:  “Yippee Kay-Yay Motherfucker,”– John McClane
Defining Role:  John McClane is the role for which Willis will always be remembered.  As mentioned earlier, Willis made his career as the ultimate everyman, and as Die Hard‘s John McClane he molded that niche and has worn it ever since.  He’s a wise-cracking New York cop with marital problems and is one of the last action stars to smoke.  Like any action star worth his salt, he kills terrorists with reckless abandon and enjoyment, saving the innocent at any cost to himself.  As I said before, he is who we are and who we want to be.
Best Action Moment:   While Die Hard may be Willis’ initial action credential, it is not his best.  For pure, unabashed, non-stop action we turn to 1996’s Last Man Standing, another update of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) and Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), all of which are based on Dashiel Hammet’s novel Red Harvest.  Willis plays a mysterious wanderer, John Smith, who comes to the town of Jericho, Texas, which is a ghost town, save for two warring mafia gangs that Willis proceeds to turn against one another and ultimately destroys.  The movie is filled with a dual-pistol wielding Willis shooting everyone in sight and sending them flying, literally.  Check it out:

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Best Non-Action Turn:  Willis’ career has been commercially successful.  This success is built not only on action films but on some successful comedic and dramatic turns.  Shyamalan casted him in two commercially and critically successful films, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.  He won an Emmy on the for his lead role on Moonlighting and for his guest spot on Friends.  But awards aside, Willis truly shined in the career boosting Tarantino masterpiece, Pulp Fiction (1994).  He once again assumed the role of the everyman:  just a nobody boxer trying to get a payday from a big time L.A. gangster, whom he foolishly attempts to double-cross.  Willis’ scenes with Ving Rhames, as the aforementioned gangster Marcellus Wallace, are good, but his chops show through in his scenes with his French girlfriend, Fabienne.  In those scenes, he exerts his charm, delivers his lines with ease.  He does what good actors do, he seamlessly makes us believe him.  We are no longer watching Bruce Willis, but Butch Coolidge, who is by extension, a close relative of John McClane.

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