A Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks Christmas: Harry Ellis, Dwayne T. Robinson, & Dick Thornburg from ‘Die Hard’
Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks is a celebration of the characters we love to hate in the movies we love to love. They’re not always the main villains – and sometimes they’re not even villains at all – but they’re definitely jerks. For this very special Christmas edition of Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks, let’s look at three of the biggest douchebags in cinematic history and see why they find themselves forever enshrined here in the hall of shame. It’s the final ever Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks, and for Christmas we’re inducting Die Hard’s Dick Thornburg, Deputy Dwayne T. Robinson, and Harry Ellis.
Die Hard is of course the world’s greatest ever Christmas movie, and so it seems only fitting that Die Hard would include not one, not two, but three of the biggest pricks ever to grace the silver screen. Die Hard‘s Unholy Trinity of cinematic buttheads is legendary and is actually one of the reasons that the late, great, totally-wrong-on-this-one Roger Ebert gave the movie a mediocre review. You can’t win ’em all, Rog. Anyway, Hans! Bubby! Let’s talk about Harry Ellis.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. If you’re a wholesome, well-to-do individual like myself then you’ll have sung those lyrics in your head, imagining little children building snowmen, chestnuts roasting on a roaring fire, and Christmas cheer and good will to all men (and women, before you start). But did you know that snow is also — in the parlance of our times — a slang name for the illicit street drug, cocaine? Also known as Charlie, Sniff, Blow, Bugle, Bernie’s Gold Dust, Auntie Nora, Bizzle, Colombian Marching Powder, and Great Uncle Charles’ All Natural Nose Tonic, cocaine is an illegal substance enjoyed by deviants and ne’er-do-wells looking to talk a lot of shite or balance out an incredible amount of alcohol consumption with an upper. Anyway, Harry Ellis, the dirty little bastard, can’t get enough of it.
John McClane — a New York, straight shootin’ cop who’s not afraid to play by his own rules — hates Ellis about 0.4 seconds into his first meeting with him, when after arriving at his wife’s Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, he gets an eyeball of Ellis sticking his beak into a big fat slug of Paradise White. Harry claims he was just making a phone call, but John — with eleven years of experience as a detective — instantly recognises all of the sniffing, fast talking, jittery behaviour, and the fact that Ellis still has some cocaine in his moustache, as signs that Ellis has just been having a cocaine. But John isn’t at the Christmas party to bust people for having a big one on pay weekend, and so he lets it slide. Just this once.
Ellis, overconfident thanks to his indulgence in too much Star Spangled Powder, tries to show his dominance as the office alpha male by insisting that John’s wife Holly show her husband the Christmas gift that he bought her. “It’s a Rolex,” he proclaims, proudly, with a massive, bearded grin. Honestly, what an absolute flannel this guy is. I firmly believe that John McClane could have grabbed Ellis by his fucking beard right then and there and launched him directly through the window to his death, and there’s no jury in the land that would have convicted him. Not even in one of the weirdo states. Defenestration would be a mercy killing. Not for Ellis, but for everyone else who ever had to suffer spending one moment in his odious presence.
Anyway, once it all goes pear-shaped and terrorists take over the Nakatomi Plaza, Ellis starts freaking out a little bit. Maybe it’s the fact that armed gunmen have taken him hostage, or maybe he’s just desperate for another toot of Peruvian Flake, but instead of trusting John McClane to sort all the baddies out like everyone else has, ol’ Harry decides to take matters into his own hands. He requests an audience with the terrorist leader, Hans Gruber, in which he pretends to be an old friend of John’s who can talk him out of sneaking around in the shadows, capping terrorists, and generally fucking up Hans’ plan.
“Hans! Bubby! I’m your white knight!” he audaciously claims, utterly oblivious to the fact that he’s in way over his head. He tries to convince Hans that they’re equals, only while Hans prefers to conduct his business via the medium of threat and/or violence, Harry does his deals with the stroke of his pen. If looks could kill, Hans’ burning hatred for Ellis would have zapped a hole through his head there and then, but ever the consummate professional, Hans hears him out. Harry’s plan, it seems, is to negotiate with John, get him to stand down, and then what? Have a glass of champers with Hans and his mates, before going back to his apartment to watch Home Alone 2 like a normal person on Christmas Eve? Honestly, I don’t think he thought this plan through. But then maybe his drug-addled brain wasn’t capable of rational thought.
Say no to drugs, kids.
Jerk-off Quote: “I’ve watched 60 Minutes, and I say to myself, they’re motivated, they’re happening, i.e. they want something. Maybe it’s because you’re pissed off at the camel-jockeys or maybe it’s the Heebs, Northern Ireland, it’s none of my business. I figure, you’re here to negotiate. Am I right? Hey, business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen, what’s the difference? Let’s put it in my terms: you’re in a hostile takeover, you snatch us up for some green mail, but you’re not expecting some poison pill to be running around the building, am I right? Hans! Bubby! I’m your white knight.” — Harry Ellis, who negotiates multi-million dollar deals for breakfast, dealing with some Eurotrash.
Comeuppance: Unfortunately for Harry Ellis, he’s not the master negotiator that he thought he was, and his plan to make friends with his terrorist captors and get out of the situation unscathed all goes to pot. Hans Gruber — in a move so crowd pleasing that it almost turns him into the hero of the movie — shoots Harry Ellis dead when John McClane refuses to give himself up. And nobody, not even his mum, turned up to his funeral. Maybe. They don’t deal with that bit in the movie. But come on.
Jerk-off Rating: Beards didn’t come back into fashion for like twenty years after Die Hard. Coincidence? I think not, bubby.
Somewhere around the time that Ellis is first starting to wish he had another gram of gear on him to get through the terrorism-related pickle he’s found himself in, Deputy Dwayne. T. Robinson of the Los Angeles police department turns up outside the Nakatomi Plaza to stick his oar in. Up until this point, John McClane has been chatting via walkie talkie to another cop named Al, and the two have been getting along swimmingly. But for whatever reason, Deputy Dwayne T. Robinson takes an instant dislike to John McClane, and pretty much whatever the situation is, he finds some way to point the finger of blame towards him.
Has there ever been a worse policeman that Dwayne? You’d think that when you’re facing an incredibly volatile terrorist threat with dozens of potential civilian casualties, you’d be glad of a little help from an inside man, but Dwayne seems determined to fuck the whole thing up from the moment he arrives on the scene. The bullet-riddled terrorist corpse that John McClane threw from the window to get Al’s attention? He reckons it’s probably a stockbroker who got depressed. Now, admittedly, depression is a difficult thing to quantify, and it’s hard to predict how exactly it may affect the person afflicted by it, but I have a hard time believing that depression could cause one to repeatedly shoot themselves in the chest and then leap face-first through a high-rise window. It’s a slightly ostentatious method of suicide, wouldn’t you agree?
Still, who knows? I’m not a big city psychiatrist. Maybe that’s a common occurrence in Los Angeles. Far be it from me to dispute Dwayne’s credentials when it comes to dealing with such matters. Maybe Dwayne just wanted to look at it from all angles? To be thorough? So what about when a SWAT team tries to enter the building, terrorists mercilessly gun them down and leave them bleeding on the pavement, and then John McClane drops C4 down an elevator shaft to blow up the baddies responsible before they can do any more damage? Surely, that tells you McClane must be fighting the good fight? Well, Dwayne gets annoyed that McClane blew out of a bunch of windows with the blast. Say what you will about Deputy Dwayne T. Robinson, but he’s a man who respects his glass. Don’t fuck with windows on this dude’s watch.
But hey, we don’t know Dwayne’s history. Maybe his parents were artisan glassmakers and that’s why he was so upset about McClane brazenly destroying dozens of windows just to save a few lives. I mean, these guys knew what they signed up for. It’s a dangerous job. People die. And if a handful of people have to die so that we don’t have to make an uncomfortable phone call to the local glazer, then so be it. That’s why Dwayne is the Deputy — he has to make the tough calls that we wouldn’t be able to.
Jerk-off quote: “We don’t know shit, Powell. If there’s hostages, how come nobody’s come to us with ransom demands, huh? If there’s terrorists in there, where’s their list of demands? All we know is that somebody shot your car up. It’s probably the same silly son of a bitch you’ve been talking to on that radio.” — Deputy Dwayne T. Robinson, PhD in Psychology, master glassmaker, enormous twat.
Comeuppance: None, really. His authority is fairly quickly diminished once the FBI arrive, but then I guess he probably gets it back when the FBI are blown up minutes later. At the end of the movie it looks like he’s about to read John McClane the riot act, but then some shit goes down and it never happens. Presumably he got fired for being absolutely shit at cop stuff, and he now lives on the street, drinking liquor from a brown paper bag, recanting tales to all and sundry about how shit Die Hard 5 was.
Jerk-off Rating: I’ve seen all three The Naked Gun movies, and every Police Academy, and he’s still the worst cop ever.
Not long after Deputy Dwayne T. Robinson arrives to make John McClane’s life more difficult at every single turn for no apparent reason, the press gets wind of something sinister being afoot at the Nakatomi Plaza. Enter Dick Thornburg, slimeball reporter extraordinaire, played with effortless sleaze by the wonderful William Atherton. Long time fans of Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks may recall that William Atherton was featured as our very first entry thanks to his role in Ghostbusters as EPA Agent Walter Peck. How fitting, then, that he should be our final inductee, too.
If there’s one profession that Hollywood has historically been unkind to more than any other, it’s journalism. Reporters are frequently presented as self-centered, arrogant, sell-their-own-mother-for-a-story types, and hey, maybe that’s all true. I don’t know any actual journalists. Maybe they’re all massive whoppers. And whoppers don’t come any more massive than Dick Thornburg. The guy practically oozes out of the screen in every single scene he’s in, like some sort of creature out of The Ring, only ginger, and much shitter. As far as Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks inductees go, Thornburg is the gold standard.
Perhaps his greatest crime against taste and decency occurs in the latter half of the movie when, after discovering John McClane’s name thanks to Harry Ellis’ ill-fated attempt to coax John out of hiding via Walkie Talkie, he travels to McClane’s home address and threatens the Mexican house-keeper with the INS if she doesn’t let him in to interview McClane’s infant children about potentially never seeing their parents again on Christmas Eve. Wow, that’s quite a sentence. There are so many things wrong in that sentence that it’s tough to know even where to begin, but Dick couldn’t give a flying fig. He wants a Pullitzer, and if he has to threaten a few Mexicans and ruin a couple of kids’ Christmases to get what he wants, then so be it. Hey, sounds like another guy we all know.
Anyway, once the terrorist incident has been dealt with via a combination of gunshots, explosions, and cheesy one-liners, John McClane and his wife, Holly, are about to head home for a well deserved glass of sherry when Dick decides that now is the perfect time to poke his nose in and ask for an interview. Holly, bemused with Thornburg thanks to the whole threatening the housekeeper and putting her traumatised children on national television thing, scones him with a right hook, live on camera for all the world to see, proving that Santa really is out there, listening to our appeals for physical violence against smug people we don’t like. Thank you, Santa.
Jerk-off Quote: “Look. You let me in right now, or I call the INS. Comprende?” — Dick Thornburg, proving that douchebaggery sounds the same in every language.
Comeuppance: After getting jarped by Holly McClane on live television, he gets a restraining order against her and remains a massive prick, ready to reprise his role in the alright-but-not-as-good Die Hard 2. Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice that the wedding ring that Thornburg is wearing in the first Die Hard is nowhere to be seen in the sequel, and so it’s safe to assume that his wife learned of his pending induction into the annals of Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks history, and got out while the getting was good. Nice work, girl.
Jerk-off Rating: We’re ending Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks with him. He’s the peak. Or the trough, depending on how you look at it. He’s an arsehead, okay?
Thank you to everyone who enjoyed – or read, at least – our celebration of all things jerk-off here with Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks. It’s been a blast to write, but all good things must come to an end. If you’re in the mood for a little more cinematic dickheadery, then check out the previous entries into the hall of shame right here. Enjoy your Christmas, and whatever you do, leave being a jerk to the professionals.
December 20, 2018 at 1:42 pm
You’re still doing these? I hadn’t seen one in a while but I was going to suggest a few months ago Michael Shannon’s character from The Shape of Water. Guy is an absolute knob in every conceivable way.
December 26, 2020 at 1:49 am
Deputy Chief Robinson got his when McClane said “I’m not the one who just got buttf$@$ked on national TV…. Dwayne!”