The Perfect Hans

Alan Rickman died today, after a battle with cancer.  Only 69 — which is all too young in these days of countless medical advances and miracle drugs — he was an exceptionally talented and enormously accomplished actor who lit up stage and screen in a variety of roles, from serious to comedic, that attested to the amazingly wide range of his abilities.

For me, though, he will always be Hans Gruber, the brilliant, urbane villain in Die Hard who was one of the greatest movie villains ever.

hans-gruber-die-hardI know, I know:  it’s not fair to reduce an actor of Rickman’s achievements to one role — but I can’t help it.  Rickman was so perfect for the role, and his creation of Hans was so perfect for the film, that he almost single-handedly vaulted Die Hard from an impressive action movie into a classic of the genre.  Sure, Bruce Willis was great, but it was Hans that distinguished Die Hard from the run of the mill action thriller, because Hans was different from every other action movie villain.  Unlike the normal bad guys, he wasn’t slugging it out with the hero in an impossibly violent ending scene, nor was he some mindless psychopath.  No, Hans had depth, he had smarts, and he had a great plan and team — and it would have worked if only John McClane hadn’t stumbled onto the scene at the Nakatomi Plaza.

I may be alone in this, but I actually identified more with Hans than with McClane.  Hans wore a sophisticated, well-tailored suit, his dry wit was hilarious, his decision to pose as a terrorist to distract the cops and FBI cowboys from his plan to steal millions in bearer bonds was a stroke of genius, and he was ruthless and single-minded in his pursuit of his pay day.  When Hans objected to being described as a common thief — saying, indignantly, that “I am an exceptional thief” — I wholeheartedly agreed with him.  And, according to the news articles, many of the touches that made Hans unique and so intensely memorable were suggested by Rickman in the first place.

Rickman was great as Severus Snape, too, and I also thought he was hysterical as Alexander Dane, the would-be Shakespearean actor who bridled at playing an alien with a hackneyed catch phrase in a sci-fi TV show in Galaxy Quest, but those are only a few of the roles that made up a fine career.  It’s terrible when gifted actors like Rickman can die so young, but at least he left behind a record of his talents that his fans can enjoy again and again.  He will be missed.

A Great New Villain In The Game

I thought nobody could surpass Joffrey Baratheon in the despised villain category.  I can’t think of anybody I’d rather see get hit in the side of the face with a well-thrown cow pattie (as happened, deliciously, last episode).  But boy — Theon Greyjoy (very convincingly played by Alfie Allen on HBO’s fabulous series Game of Thrones) is giving Joffrey a run for his money.

Theon’s got a lot of flaws.  He’s a misogynist who treats every woman like a scullery maid — even his sister.  For some odd reason, he has a very exalted opinion of himself, even though he hasn’t accomplished anything.  He’s really kind of an idiot, too.  He’s got bad teeth.  And, even in a time when baths were few and far between, he always seems to be especially soiled.  If you could smell him, you’d expect him to reek.

But the chief fault in this very imperfect man is his stunning ingratitude.  Years ago, the Greyjoys rose up against the crown and were defeated by the Starks.  Theon’s father swore an oath to the late Ned Stark — and gave Stark his young son Theon as a kind of hostage.  The Starks accepted Theon, made him part of the family, and raised him with their own children.  After Ned is beheaded thanks to the insufferable Joffrey Baratheon and the kingdoms go to war, does Theon help the Starks avenge Ned’s death?  Nope!  He goes home, sides with the squirrelly father who gave him away years ago and has made no effort to reestablish contact since, and captures Winterfell while the Starks are in the field against the true enemy.  And he ineptly beheads one of the chief Stark deputies while doing so.  What a tool!

In short, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more despicable ingrate than Theon Greyjoy.  Off with his head!