Films/TV - Bruce Willis

Following yesterday's news that the iconic actor is retiring from acting due to ill health, Tony Cross takes a look back at some of the best work of Bruce Willis ...

It is hard, from 2022, to remember how cool Bruce Willis once was. The star of Moonlighting, of Die Hard and…well…other stuff. Lots of other stuff. The slow decline of his career into a series of poor films where Willis seemed to be struggling to put in a decent performance and that appeared to be made just for digital and foreign sales has made that easy to forget. But let us never speak of those films again.

He was, I understand, also a pain in the arse to work with. He fell out with Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting. You can find Kevin Smith’s account of working with Willis on Live Free or Die Hard on YouTube, which paints Willis in a bad light and Richard E Grant’s writes rather wonderfully about the hassles of filming Hudson Hawk with Willis. But I come not to bury Willis but to praise him.

Let us start with Moonlighting. Willis played David Addison, a fast talking – aka bullshitting – arrogant Private Detective who found himself working for Maddie Hayes, played by Cybill Shepherd. A former model. You always got the impression that David Addison was how Bruce Willis wanted to see himself. But he was fantastic to watch and Moonlighting blended comedy and adventure pretty successfully. However, Willis and Shepherd didn’t get on and so after five seasons it came to an end. Moonlighting played fast and loose with the rules of television breaking the fourth wall, making an episode that was a variation on Taming of the Shrew – “Atomic Shakespeare.” To the fifteen-year-old me it was glorious fun and Bruce Willis seemed utterly cool.

I was so into Bruce Willis I also bought the two albums he released – The Return of Bruno and If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger – which I really liked. Could Willis sing? Well, he was OK but there was something fun about the whole thing and it was getting the taste of someone getting to live the life they’d really wanted to live. What was the point in being a Hollywood star if you couldn’t do everything you’d ever wanted to do? There was something Mary Sue-ish about Bruce Willis’ career.

Then in 1988 he made Die Hard, a film which seems to have been made purely to stimulate discussions about what makes a Christmas film. It is one of the greatest Hollywood action films of all time. Willis plays NYPD Detective John McClane who, visiting his estranged wife at her office Christmas Party, gets caught up in a robbery. McClane becomes a one-man army. Die Hard is a fantastic film and Willis is great in it. He’s an everyman action hero. He’s not an Arnie or Stallone type hero. It still stands up aided by a fantastic performance from Alan Rickman as Han Gruber.

Looking through his filmography it is a mixed bag, but there’s some good stuff in there: Blind Date, The Last Boy Scout, Death Becomes Her, Die Hard 2, The Fifth Element, 12 Monkeys, Armageddon, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Sin City and, for me, and perhaps me alone, Hudson Hawk.

Hudson Hawk is often seen as one of the great Hollywood turkeys, but I love it. It is clearly an ego project, but I always felt it was so much fun. I remember being disappointed when I found out how much Richard E Grant disliked making it. It’s still one of my comfort films even now. I’m aware that I’m in a minority on this one. I might even go and watch it tonight.

I know a lot of people won’t be bothered about Willis’ career coming to an end, but for me Bruce Willis will always be one of the coolest actors ever and I wanted to make a note of that.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - IMDb
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