So a few weeks back Die Hard screenwriter, Steven E. de Souza explained that a so-called ‘huge plot hole’ in the film is only there due to a scene being cut from the movie. It was pretty well covered by multiple sites including Slashfilm, Entertainment Weekly, Digital Spy, Lad Bible, Indie Wire as well as numerous others. With many of the sites using such terminology as “Die Hard writer explains major plot hole in the film.”, “a major Die Hard plot hole was just explained.” or even “There is one significant plot hole that has left fans scratching their heads over the years.” But just exactly what was the ‘plot hole’ that has had us Die Hard fans perplexed and pulling our hair out in frustration for the last (almost) thirty years?
The ‘Plot Hole’
Okay, so apparently – in the film when a tired and pretty beat up John McClane (Bruce Willis) comes face to face with Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) for the first time. Gruber does his best American accent and passes himself of as ‘Bill Clay’ to McClane then McClane gives ‘Clay’ a gun. It is the fact that McClane realises that ‘Bill’ is really Hans is a ‘plot hole’ due to a deleted scene. This is how screenwriter de Souza explained it…
“Originally, they get off the truck, the camera craned up, you saw them in a circle and Alan Rickman says, ‘Synchronize your watches’. They all put their arms out in a circle with the camera moving down and they all had the same Tag Heuer watch. If you notice, the first guy Bruce kills almost by accident going down the steps, he searches the body, looks at the IDs. He steals the cigarettes, which is a laugh. He looks at the watch which gets another laugh because you’re thinking he might steal the watch. As he kills each guy, he notices they all had the same watch. When he talks to Dwayne Robinson, he says, ‘I think these guys are professionals. Their IDs are too good. There’s no labels on their clothes and they all have the same watch.’”
However, the watch scene was cut from the final film so we the audience do not know all the terrorists are wearing the same make of watch. According to de Souza, when McClane and Gruber meet for the first time, McClane checks out Gurber’s watch – notices its the same make he has already seen on the other terrorists and it is the watch that clues McClane in on that’ Bill Clay’ is really Hans Gruber. So there’s your explanation to that ‘plot hole’ that has been annoying you for almost three decades. Except I have a handful of problems with this…
If you are a die hard Die Hard fan like myself then you most probably have not been scratching your head over this ‘plot hole’ because you have never even registered it as a ‘plot hole’ to begin with. The only things I’m scratching my head over are – this is the first and only time I have ever heard anyone consider this a genuine plot hole and how the explanation given does not make 100% sense. Just going back to de Souza’s explanation for a second.
“When he (McClane) talks to Dwayne Robinson, he says, ‘I think these guys are professionals. Their IDs are too good. There’s no labels on their clothes and they all have the same watch.’”
Errr, no. McClane never once mentions the watches they are wearing in the film at all. He does mention their impressive and expensive phoney IDs, clothing labels and cigarettes…not their watches. He’s not even talking to Dwayne Robinson either.
John McClane: These guys are mostly European judging by their clothing labels and their [long pause] cigarettes. They’re well-financed and very slick.
Sergeant Al Powell: Well, now how do you know that?
John McClane: I’ve seen enough phoney ID’s in my time to know that the ones they got must have cost a fortune. Add all that up, I don’t know what the fuck it means, but you got some bad-ass perpetrators and they’re here to stay.
Sergeant Al Powell: I hear ya, partner. And L.A.’s finest are on it.
McClane was talking to Sergeant Powell. You’d think de Souza would have a better knowledge of the movie he wrote. Then getting to the main scene itself, one of my favourite scenes ever on film – two lead actors squaring off against each other in a tense, ticking bomb piece of cinema. This is what de Souza had to say about that particular scene too.
“When Bruce offers the cigarette to Alan Rickman, Bruce sees the watch. You see his eyes look at the watch. That’s how he knows that he is one of the terrorists.”
McClane never once looks at Gruber’s watch – in fact Gruber keeps his watch arm tucked behind his back for pretty much the whole of that scene, it tucked back there when he accepts the cigarette and when he takes the gun. Okay so Gruber does use his left arm (with the watch) to take the cigarette out of the packet – but you can hardly see the watch and there is no indication that McClane ever looks at it either, there is certainly no shot where “You see his eyes look at the watch” as de Souza claims. So de Souza’s explanation just does not add up, at least not for me. Now I’m not saying a scene where the terrorists synchronise their watches was never filmed to be cut, maybe it was and maybe the whole watch scene was originally intended to explain how McClane worked out who ‘Bill Clay’ really was, or at least a part of the puzzle. But what I am saying is that even with that scene removed…there is no plot hole at all.
Just as an aside. I have a 2-disc special edition of Die Hard, it has deleted and alternate scenes and yet there is no ‘synchronise watches’ scene anywhere to be found. I even did a search on the interwebs and found nothing. The only info I can find that this watch scene even exists leads back to the same articles I linked to at the start and the whole reason I’m writing this article. So why is de Souza trying to explain away a ‘plot hole’ that does not exist with a supposed ‘deleted scene’ that I can’t find? If anyone can find the scene, please do let me know as I’d like to see it for myself.
Why Its Not A Plot Hole
Just for the sake of argument, lets just say that yes there was such a deleted scene and also agree that this is a ‘major plot hole’ that has been bugging fans for close to thirty years. I’d like to offer a reasonable explanation that would easily cover such a plot hole without using deleted scenes and only what we see and know from watching the film as it is in its final cut.
So how did John McClane know Bill Clay was really Hans Gruber?
- McClane is there when Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) is shot by Gruber. Okay so he’s under a table trying to hide away and his view is impaired… but he can see small details. Even during the scene where the “plot hole” is said to be, Hans says how he will count to three and McClane replies with “Like you did with Takagi?”.
- There is a scene later – after McClane kills Tony (Andreas Wisniewski) the infamous “Now I have a machine gun ho-ho-ho” scene. McClane is on top of the elevator listening in as Gruber and one of his henchmen talk, taking notes. McClane can see into the elevator car itself and see’s Gruber. I admit its not a great view but McClane can see things like Gruber’s suit, his hair, etc.
- McClane’s rank in the police is Detective, so he detects. He would have been able to piece together the little bits of evidence he has collected over the events of the film and come to a reasonable conclusion over who ‘Bill Clay’ really was right?
- An alternate theory – McClane really didn’t know. However, he is just not stupid enough to hand over a loaded gun to a civilian during a terrorist/hostage situation without any background checks. He handed an empty gun to a civilian just to make them feel safer.
- Another idea. We the viewer follow Gruber when he goes to check the roof and what leads to the main event between him and McClane. So as we do not see exactly what McClane is getting up to while Gruber is doing his checks. Its only when Gruber jumps down from checking the explosives that McClane appears. How do we know that McClane didn’t simply see Gruber heading to the roof and followed him? The film already showed that McClane was watching what the terrorists were doing.
So even without deleted scenes…where is this ‘major plot hole’?
Am I alone here? Before a few weeks back when de Souza explained why this ‘plot hole’ exists, I had never though of of it as a plot hole before (and I’ve watched Die Hard a lot), I think it even less of a plot hole since his explanation. The whole thing just does not add up.
I quite enjoyed this looking at so-called ‘plot holes’, may have to do more in the future…
6 thoughts on “The Major Die Hard Plot Hole…Was There Ever One?”
This is brilliant! Well done!
I’m with you – I’ve seen Die Hard countless times (an all-timer Christmas movie, eh!) and never once have I wondered or worried about this point. I dunno, maybe the director is trying to drum up interest in the film again because they’re gonna re-re-re-re-re-re-release it in the near future? Who knows.
I greatly look forward to other posts like this!
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Thanks for reading.
Planning on tackling some Back to the Future ‘plot holes’ later. But have some other articles I’m working on before that. Should be a good one though as time travel is always a tricky subject to cover.
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Doc was always on about time travel paradoxes but they went and did it anyway…
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I always thought what tipped McClane off was that Gruber chose his fake name from the listing on the wall – what are the chances his name would be listed there? But someone else’s theory about the foreign cigarette is not bad either. I don’t think it had anything to do with McClane recognizing Gruber though. In any case, you’re definitely right about it not being a plot hole at all, just a suspenseful scene where we’re not sure what our hero is thinking. There’s no reason to dumb it down.
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I did think about including the whole name thing but the more I thought about it, the less sense it made.
The board doesn’t actually say Bill Clay, it says WM Clay. Of course the W could stand for William and Bill is a shortening of that name. William/Bill…possible? But even if it was the case of Gruber getting the name off the board – from the point of view of McClane there is nothing to suggest the man in front of him isn’t Bill Clay who works for Nakatomi.
Plus the board displays around 20 odd names. The size of Nakatomi Plaza and they only have 20 or so employees? There were 40 odd at the Christmas party alone and that was not all of the staff either as the security guard at the start points out. So not every name of every employee would be on the board. There could’ve been a Bill Clay working there for all McClane knew.
Then (I think) in the DVD commentary, John McTiernan talks about the terrible editing of that scene and how the board is not as important as people think it is. The director himself has said the board is irrelevant.
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I found your site through your comment on EW….where you discussed the lack of a “plot hole” for Die Hard. I agree with your opinion…since there appears to be no “synchronize your watch scene” filmed for the movie I wonder if the writer is remembering the scene as something that was discussed and he has, over time, wrongly remembered it as actually being filmed! There have been many studies that have shown that “eye witness” testimony is unreliable and as more time passes it becomes more unreliable…again, maybe this is just another example of “misremembering” the past…lol!!!