Why Hans Gruber Is Among Our Greatest Movie Villains
Gruber, don't go.
Just days after the passing of David Bowie, the world woke up to the sad news that another British legend had succumbed to cancer at the age of 69. Actor Alan Rickman is probably best known by the most people for playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, but in 1988, when Potter was just a glimmer in his creator's eye, Rickman broke out as distinguished, goateed terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard. The L.A.-set thriller has become an honorary Christmas movie, one that's probably as watched as Rickman's other foray into holiday films, 2003's Love Actually. Turns out that watching Rickman play an unrepentant murderer hellbent on absconding with $640 million in bearer bonds is a great palate cleanser after watching him have an emotional affair with a bug-eyed secretary while Emma Thompson sobs to a Joni Mitchell album. RIP, Mr. Rickman, and thanks for giving us Hans. Here are some reasons he's the greatest ...
His sexy-ass crew
With the very obvious exception of Vigo the Carpathian, Hans Gruber assembled a pretty babely group of horrible men to execute the heist at Nakatomi Plaza. They dress well — and look at all that hair! (The shower and sink drains on set must've been so clogged with long, flowing man hairs.) And lest we believe all bad guys are made of stone, we see a softer side of Karl (aka the flaxen-haired bad guy from The Money Pit) when John McClane mercilessly kills his brother Tony, who has a little bit of a bespectacled Rocky Horror thing going on. I'd say at least 10 out of the 13 guys would have a decent shot at being brought home from the bar after a couple of cocktails on a Saturday night, and that's pretty impressive.
Hans is no slouch in the personal-grooming department either. His blowdryer-kissed cut is slightly grown out, but the neatly trimmed goatee makes him look devilish in an unassuming way, which turns out to be plot pertinent: if he weren't so clean-cut, he couldn't have successfully tricked McClane into believing he was a wayward businessman who'd managed to surreptitiously slip away from the hostage situation. And that brings us to ...
If you're watching Die Hard for the first time or it's been a long time between viewings, there's a span of a few seconds when Hans convinces us he's actually piss-his-pants afraid of being shot by McClane. In how many films have we seen a principal bad guy lose his mettle when he's not surrounded by his armed accomplices? But not Hans. This guy has so much goddamn mettle that not only can he stare death in the face, he can do it while putting on a Southern accent (which can't be easy for a German guy) and achieving an Oscar-caliber performance. He goes head and shoulders above what any organization could reasonably ask of its terrorists.
A face only a mother could trust
So, Hans Gruber isn't exactly a terrorist. He's a West German guy who makes a heist look like a terrorist attack so he can steal a large sum of money. Of course, in the process of "staging" his terrorist attack he terrorizes lots of people, but what's refreshing about Hans is that he isn't an idealogue. His crimes against humanity aren't motivated by politics or religion but by a sociopathic desire to be a guy who's $640 million wealthier — if anything, you could say he's an anarchist. If we weren't already secretly rooting for him, Hans kills Holly McClane's cokehead colleague, Harry Ellis, one of the most killable characters in the history of film.
Of course, his voice
One of Alan Rickman's greatest assets as an actor — on top of his talent and charisma, obviously — was the deep, silky voice that washed over us like a warm wave, leaving so many women and men weak in the knees. I submit that a fancy-pants German terrorist with a goatee wouldn't have had the same authority if it weren't for Rickman's voice. It's a voice we'll all miss.
Luckily we still have Tom Hardy.
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