Bruce Willis has been the star of many a cop thriller. These, of course, include his most iconic role as John McClane in the Die Hard franchise that catapulted him onto the Hollywood A-list.
Now, in Acts of Violence, Willis plays Detective Avery, a tough cop who’s sick of seeing the bad guys win. He’s as grizzled and cynical as ever as he tries to find a way around the departmental bureaucracy and politics that have tied his hands. The film plays out like a modernised Western as Avery and his cohorts take down the bad guys by any means necessary. With the new revenge thriller’s UK release, we look back over Willis’s career and pick out his best ever lawman roles.
Here’s where it all began. A few years before he shot to international fame, Willis was the star of hit television show Moonlighting. He played wisecracking private detective David Addison Jr. opposite Cybill Shepherd’s Maddie Hayes, head of the City of Angels Detective Agency. It mixed film noir with Hawksian screwball comedy, while paving the way for the “dramedy,” now a staple of television. It played to Willis’s strength in delivering light comedic relief, but also cut the template for the series of “renegade detective” roles that he has played right up to the present day. Moonlighting was a massive hit in the 80s as it fired Bruce Willis’ sly charm into the public consciousness.
The Last Boy Scout (1991)
In this action favourite Willis plays disgraced ex-secret service agent Joe Hallenbeck who teams up with equally out-of-favour ex-quarterback Jimmy Dix (Marlon Wayans) after Jimmy’s stripper girlfriend Cory—who Joe was hired to protect—is found dead. Working together to solve her murder, the job gets them wrapped up with an American football team and a shady politician. Boasting high-octave direction by the much-missed Tony Scott, and a rip-roaring and witty script by Shane Black, the man behind cop-classics Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys. Interestingly, Black’s original title for the film was Die Hard, but that changed when producer Joel Silver paid for the title and slapped it on another film, an adaptation of a book called Nothing Lasts Forever… and the rest is history.
Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)
The third film in the long-running Die Hard franchise is arguably the best following John McTiernan’s 1988 original. Willis had proved himself as a serious actor with career-best turns in Pulp Fiction and 12 Monkeys, and the experience rubbed off on his performance as McClane. His Pulp Fiction co-star Samuel L. Jackson shines as the comic taxi driver Zeus, and much of the film’s humour comes from there bickering relationship. The character arc of McClane is also more interesting here than in the later films. At this point he’s played as an almost full-blown alcoholic who has been suspended by the NYPD. Of course, he’s forced back into action when a maniac demands that he plays a version of “Simon Says” under increasingly tense circumstances. This was the second and last John McTiernan directed classic in the series.
Sin City (2005)
Robert Rodriguez created something truly unique by co-directing an adaptation of acclaimed graphic novel Sin City with its creator, Frank Miller. The pair shot the film entirely on green screen (which in 2005 was a truly groundbreaking concept) and it worked. What you see looks exactly like Miller’s original graphic novels. Willis plays Detective John Hartigan, a deeply cynical and gruff detective who is pushing 60. Hartigan cares little for his own well-being as long as his fellow citizens are safe. He swears to protect little Nancy Callahan after she almost becomes another victim of the child murderer/rapist The Yellow Bastard. But of course, nothing is easy. It remains one of Willis’ most emotionally satisfying and impressive roles. He reprised the part in the much less successful 2014 sequel.
16 Blocks (2016)
One unsung Willis’ gem of recent years is 16 Blocks. It’s also Richard (Lethal Weapon) Donner’s final directorial effort to date. Willis plays the boozy and world-weary NYPD detective Jack Mosey who receives a routine assignment to transport a trial witness, Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), just 16 blocks from the jail to the courthouse by 10am. However, there are forces at work that conspire to prevent him from finishing the assignment. These include his former police partner Frank Nugent, played by his Twelve Monkeys co-star David Morse. It’s the kind of role Willis can do in his sleep, but he still brings a sense of gravitas. With strong performances by Def and Morse as well, it winds up being an effective film deserving reappraisal.
Red was Willis’s biggest hit of recent years, and it’s no wonder. In the film he plays a retired and bored black-ops CIA agent, Frank Moses, whose only current joy are phone calls to his pension caseworker, Sarah. One night their lives are turned upside down and he must ensure his and Sarah’s safety. He does this by pulling together an all-star team featuring Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Dame Helen Mirren. Red is a light-hearted romp with good performances and enough ‘80s style action sequences to please action fans.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson is one of the most unique filmmakers working today. And Willis has always worked well with auteurs, whether it’s Terry Gilliam or Quentin Tarantino. While his persona might not seem an instant match for Wes Anderson’s aesthetic, Willis excels here in one of his most understated performances. Moonrise Kingdom depicts two 12-year-old runaways, and the factions of the island that are out to find them. Playing good-natured local Policeman Captain Sharp, fits perfectly into Anderson’s highly specific cinematic world.
L.A. Vengeance (2017)
One of Willis’s recent cop turns was his appearance in the crime caper L.A. Vengeance. Here he plays beach bum/gumshoe Steve Ford. Ford gets himself into a pickle with a local gang who decided to steal his beloved dog. Enlisting his best friend Dave (John Goodman) and his assistant John (Thomas Middleditch) to help him get his dog back through an increasingly convoluted series of escapades, including naked skateboarding and cross-dressing. It’s a film with shades of The Big Lebowski and it’s a nice throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s action flicks Willis made his name with.
Despite already having a highly decorated career, Acts of Violence proves this old cop isn’t ready for retirement yet!
Signature Entertainment presents Acts of Violence on Digital HD 30th March & DVD 2nd April