Let me say, first and foremost, that I am by no means a legal expert. You wouldn’t go to an auto mechanic to fix your garage door, nor should you come to a movie geek for legal advice. Good? All right. Now, most of us are aware of the huge impact that director John McTiernan has had on film. Some may try to downplay it, but the fact remains that he’s directed two of the most popular, genre-defining action films of all time; DIE HARD and PREDATOR. Both of those films, released a year apart, have stood the test of time and become the standard to beat when it comes to the genre.
Those aren’t the only good films McTiernan has made, but definitely the standouts of his career. His adaptation of Tom Clancy’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is another outstanding film, as is THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, a remake that eclipses the original into obscurity. 1993’s LAST ACTION HERO was long regarded as a failed misstep, but has grown to be appreciated as a film before its time, serving as a kick ass action film, while making fun of the same genre. His DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE didn’t topple the original, but serves as one of the stronger sequels in the franchise.
The Sean-Connery led MEDICINE MAN was an interesting and sometimes thrilling adventure film that didn’t quite connect with audiences, but still shows off the technical skill of the New York-born director. One of my favorite films in his repertoire is his adaptation of author Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, THE 13TH WARRIOR, a vastly underrated Viking epic, replete with McTiernan’s signature style, both in camerawork and gritty, real-world atmosphere.
Certainly, McTiernan’s last two films, ROLLERBALL and BASIC, were the true low points for the director. A remake of Norman Jewison’s 1975 cult-hit starring James Caan, McTiernan’s ROLLERBALL is an incoherent mess and serves as the film that put the filmmaker in hot water to begin with. His follow up, BASIC, is a convoluted wannabe RASHOMON-themed film chock full of the most military gaffes I’ve ever seen. Ultimately, these last two films have not completed a great legacy by arguably the greatest action director of this generation.
And now, McTiernan is going to jail. After an illegal wiretapping scandal with ex-private investigator Anthony Pellicano (now serving a 15-year sentence himself), McTiernan made a series of legal missteps when dealing with a charge that he’d hired Pellicano to wiretap ROLLERBALL producer Charles Roven (for reasons yet to be divulged). The charge itself is actually two counts of making false statements to the FBI in 2006 and one count of perjury for lying to a federal judge while trying to withdraw a guilty plea, which ended in the October 2010 sentencing of 12 months in prison. Since then, McTiernan has been embroiled in appeals, the last of which was to the Supreme Court, who denied to hear the case, leaving McTiernan’s year-long sentence to stand.
Now, McTiernan is left no choice but to serve out the sentence. So, what does that mean for the 62-year-old director? Well, it means a lot of time to think about what to do once his time is served. In the years since 2003’s BASIC, his last film, McTiernan’s name has been linked to a wide array of projects, none of them coming to fruition due to his legal troubles. It wouldn’t be hard to surmise that making another film would’ve been the least of his concerns during that time and rightly so.
However, with the battle now over on that front and the director poised to serve out his one-year sentence, it is my hope that he finds it within himself to return to his former glory and bring audiences some more of his signature style and execution once this debacle is over. There is no director working today who has conquered McTiernan’s aesthetic grace and technical understanding of camerawork, nor his high-octane action sequences. It would be a true shame if we never saw another film from someone with such a genuine understanding of how film works (and doesn’t) and how best to apply his own style to it.
In a world where celebritants like Lindsay Lohan are running people over, violating court orders, and continuing to throttle their once-promising careers, while still churning out films, it’s of the greatest regret that someone like McTiernan is being stymied from continuing his legacy. Certainly, he made his own bed by dealing with someone like Pellicano in the first place and he must pay the price for that crime. No one is above the law. It’s just a shame that this brush with it has cost us ten years of nothing new from the once prolific director.
McTiernan isn’t getting any younger and a year in jail can do a lot to anyone. With any luck, the director will be able to flush this ten-year long hiatus away and emerge back on the scene with same passion and energy that gave us his prior classics. I believe that he’s more than earned a second chance and I’d hate to think he has nothing left to say. If anything, McTiernan’s time in prison could serve to reinvigorate and inspire him to get back in the saddle and deliver a few more action epics worthy of the legacy he’s already begun. It’s not too late, John!
If Gordon Gecko can do it, so can you. We’ll be waiting for you when you get out...
What type of film would you like to see McTiernan tackle in the future? An action sequel (say, another Die Hard or Predator), an original action film, a thriller, horror, or something else entirely? I'd like to see McTiernan tackle a real-world military film, a la Zero Dark Thirty or the upcoming Lone Survivor.