The Persecution of John McTiernan

John McTiernan's 'Last Action Hero'
May 24, 2013

Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings has an excellent story up on the imprisonment of John McTiernan, best known as the director of Die HardPredator, and The Hunt for Red October. He was sentenced to a year in prison for lying to a FBI agent, a trumped-up charge that stems from an overly aggressive prosecution ... by a lawyer who, it seems, auditioned for McTiernan:

McTiernan and his supporters believe that not only was [prosecutor Daniel A.] Saunders a failed actor, but that he’d also auditioned for roles in The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard — and didn’t get the parts. ...

McTiernan and his supporters say Saunders was finally able to get the ultimate actor’s revenge: tossing a director who rejected him into jail. "An Actor Finally Gets Even," read the headline of a press release put out by publicist Ilene Proctor, part of McTiernan’s team. "Three people, including those who worked on the casting of film projects in the latter ’80s, have identified the Prosecutor[sic] who entrapped John McTiernan into a telephone denial for which he could be prosecuted…as having submitted and probably auditioned for both Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October."

Saunders, for his part, denies that he ever auditioned for those films, telling Hastings "Mr. McTiernan’s pattern [of behavior] through the entire course of this investigation has been to lie, to get caught, and to try to blame somebody else for." Who knows. The whole thing is pretty screwy.

Screwy, but fascinating. McTiernan doesn't really get the respect he deserves: I would argue that between 1985 and 1995 or so, he was second only to Steven Spielberg in terms of the quality of his output. His body of work during that time practically defines the term Basic Cable Classic: Predator (1987), Die Hard (1988), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Medicine Man (1992), Last Action Hero (1993),* and Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995). With the exception of Medicine Man, these are all undeniable classics of a denigrated-but-important genre, the high concept action flick.

And yet no one cares that this artistic visionary has been thrown to the wolves. It's all quite odd.

*I've been amused to watch the critical reappraisal of Last Action Hero grow in recent years. That flick was about a decade too early: it was "meta" before being "meta" was cool and drips with ironic detachment in a way that the cool kids today drool over. Indeed, if that flick came out today, it would probably get dismissed for trying to ape the zeitgeist too explicitly.