There are times I go to see a film for the craft; the artistry of the director, the once-in-a-lifetime performances, or the technically beautiful design. I must admit though, these are sometimes overshadowed by the times where I get a gallon of over-priced soda and a kiddie-pool sized tub of popcorn and turn my mind off for two hours. In these rare instances and being the manly man that I am, I enjoy the heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, and testosterone filled action films. You know, the ones where the good guy really never gets knocked down and even if he does, he gets up only to beat the bejesus out of someone? A bunch of blockbusters focus on explosions, car chases, and overall excitement while plot takes a back seat (I am talking to you Michael Bay). That isn’t to say they are not still enjoyable but this intensely Hollywood notion is, thankfully, broken with a few films that are able to intertwine an entertaining storyline broken up with intense action scenes. The most important part of a believable and involving storyline that truly has the audience invested is developed between characters, specifically for our purposes the relationships between the protagonists in two of the best action flicks; Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.
Above: Fiery explosions...the cornerstone of Hollywood action movies
No one would argue that Lethal Weapon, a film about the pairing of an older “on-the-verge-of-retirement” officer, Murtaugh, and a homicidal, suicidal, plays-by-no-ones-rules cop, Riggs, is a “buddy cop” film. If anything, Lethal Weapon, defines the genre. To say then that the relationship between the two protagonists is anything but critical would be untrue. Throughout the film, the arguable “main” plot revolves around Riggs and Murtaugh being forced to work together to solve a drug smuggling case. The actual case though takes a back seat to the connection the film creates between the two protagonists and thus the affinity we, as the audience, feel toward them. At first glance both are very different people; very different cops. Murtaugh has “been on the force twenty years and not a scratch or a scar” while Riggs is a loose cannon, constantly disregarding rules and putting himself in harms way to get quick results. For example, during his introduction scene, Riggs is held hostage after a failed drug bust and tries distract the perpetrator by pleading to be shot. Each cop though compliments each other in skill and smarts. What Riggs lacks in structure and sensibility, Murtaugh makes up for in sage advice and clever planning. Murtaugh, on the other hand, doesn’t take necessary risks and thus doesn’t see results.
Die Hard is not necessarily a “buddy cop” film but to say the relationship between John McClane and Sgt. Al Powell is not touching and important would also be false. Powell, a pudgy desk jockey, is every bit different than the hard-boiled and barrel chested loose-cannon McClane. Throughout the film, their relationship parallels a distinct brotherhood between all cops. Powell immediately recognizes McClane as a brother in blue and thus an unwavering trust is created. The natural affinity they have for each other in the beginning contrasts Murtaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon yet both show the common cop mentality throughout.
Above: The same type six shooter as Murtaugh carries.
The best scenes, interestingly enough, are not the fights or explosions (however much I love them) but the quiet remarks between characters. These are the scenes where the audience becomes most involved and most likely to have a strong reaction. For Lethal Weapon,a vastly important and powerful scene shows Murtaugh and Riggs after a family dinner. Riggs, after some playful banter, indirectly reveals his longing for a family like Murtaugh’s. “I [kill] real good you know…only thing I was good at.” Riggs explains. His skill in this overwhelmingly destructive force cripples Riggs emotionally and he longs for the constructive nature of family. His skill and gall as a cop, however, comes from his lack of dependence on or from others such as a family. A family, or dependence from a partner, might bring Riggs’ skill down since he will not being able to only think of himself anymore. On the other hand, when presented with a surrogate family of Murtaughs, Riggs shows more courage and fervor in protecting them and fighting for vengeance when one gets hurt. Riggs shows his emotional scars however the structure that Murtaugh is able to provide professionally and personally completely changes Riggs’ outlook on life and the beat.
Die Hard ‘s most involving scenes are also the, by industry standards, “slowest”. Toward the end, McClane is battered, shot, and profusely bleeding. McClane asks Powell why he gave up the patrol for the desk and Powell explains that as a rookie, he accidentally mistook a teenager with a toy as a gunman and shot him. “They can teach you everything…except how to live with a mistake.” Powell explains paralleling McClane’s personal life, whose wife left him after he failed to support her during a large career promotion. McClanes most profoundly emotional moment is when he pleads to Powell to find his wife and tell her he was sorry. The entire plot revolves around McClane trying to single-handedly bring down a hostage situation from inside the building. It is clear from the beginning that he is not doing this for himself; the option to escape being available many times. Instead, McClane is trying to keep his estranged wife safe, his way of showing true devotion to her. These incredible lengths, however, are not nearly as emotional or reaction invoking as the quiet scene where McClane, realizing his slim chance of survival, tries to make final amends to his wife through Powell. “She heard me say, ‘I love you’ a thousand times, she never heard me say ‘I’m Sorry’”.
Action films are intensely emotional. Most try to pander toward the little pyromaniac kid inside of us showing off intense explosions and shallow characters. A few, however, make us believe in the world on-screen since the emotions captured are so closely relatable to the emotions we feel in life. That, really, is what film is all about: the ablility to take a media that couples a few of our senses and thoroughly tricking us into believing we are actually there. How would you react given that situation? What would you feel? For these two wonderfully emotional and heart pumping action films we see those emotions blatantly in the character development and relationships between the “good guys”.
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