To bastardise Oscar Wilde, losing one artistic hero is unfortunate, but losing two in the same week is careless. I’m still basking in the warm glow of so much superb music following the death of David Bowie, but now I’m also lamenting the uncannily coincidental passing of Alan Rickman, one of my favourite actors. Both men were 69 years old, both died of cancer. Apparently Stephen Spielberg is 69. I hope he’s not harbouring any secret tumours, I’m not sure I could cope with another icon passing anytime soon.
Alan Rickman is always worth watching: he’s always good, often great. I can’t say he’s good in films that aren’t, because he (a) made really good choices, and (b) he makes a film better by being there. To prove my thesis, let me illustrate
- Jamie the mourned-for, dead, cantankerous cellist in Truly, Madly, Deeply.
- The monstrous Sheriff of Nottingham – a pantomime villain to end them all
- Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility
- The world-weary yet brilliantly self-aware Metatron in the fabulous Dogma (NSFW or kids)
- Alexander Dane, a pompous act-or reduced to fantasy-fan conventions in Galaxy Quest
…and that’s the more famous ones. Those alone would be more than enough for most careers, but I will always remember Alan Rickman from his film debut, as the eminently-quotable, always watchable, so-good-you’re-almost-rooting-for-him-so-long-as-Bruce-Willis-gets-his-wife-out-too, European uber-thief Hans Gruber in Die Hard.
How good is this character and Rickman’s portrayal? Let me count the ways…
The benefits of a classical education…
Hans Gruber is an intellectual and cultural snob. He berates John McClane as another American who grew up watching too many movies, he (mis)quotes lines about Alexander the Great, recognises great tailoring when he sees it, and gives off a sense of European existential ennui. But always in a good way.
I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative…
Hans isn’t a terrorist (although he’s happy the FBI see him that way). He’s only in it for the money, and enters Nakatomi Plaza like he’s there for a meeting, albeit accompanied by bag-men with automatic weapons. His opening speech to the hostages is delivered while he’s clutching a notebook, like he’s trying to remember the key points in a presentation.
There will not be a four…
But for all his mannered class, he’s not averse to a bit of killing, and getting his hands dirty. And this is key to his villainy. If he were just the cleverest man in the room helped out by burly henchmen with guns, he’d be less formidable. But it’s clear early on that he an immense threat all by himself. He immediately dispatches anyone who is no longer useful (video NOT suitable for children)
You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the F.B.I.
Hans Gruber is a very funny guy. He has great lines throughout the film.
I read about them in Time magazine.
Nice suit. John Phillips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.
When they touch down, we’ll blow the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they figure out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent.
I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
Hans Gruber is an exceptional character, formed from brilliant writing and a terrific performance.
Alan Rickman was an exceptional talent and (by all accounts) human being. He has left us a huge variety of rich pickings to enjoy. He will be missed. My thoughts and best wishes are with his friends and family.