Die Hard screenwriter explains that pesky plot hole
But there is one significant plot hole that has left fans scratching their heads over the years — when John McClane (Bruce Willis) encounters German terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) mid-way through the film, Gruber poses as an American hostage. In spite of Gruber’s admirable accent, McClane immediately suspects something is off and manages to escape.
Over the years, people have chalked it up to his cop instincts and more, but screenwriter Steven E. de Souza did originally have an explanation for McClane’s sleuthing that was more than just a gut feeling.
According to Slashfilm, while speaking at a 30th anniversary screening of The Running Man, de Souza addressed the plot hole, explaining that the terrorists were all supposed to have the same watches, which would tip McClane off to Gruber’s identity.
“Originally, they get off the truck, the camera craned up, you saw them in a circle and Alan Rickman says, ‘Synchronize your watches,’” de Souza said. “They all put their arms out in a circle with the camera moving down and they all had the same Tag Heuer watch. If you notice, the first guy Bruce kills almost by accident going down the steps, he searches the body, looks at the IDs. He steals the cigarettes, which is a laugh. He looks at the watch which gets another laugh because you’re thinking he might steal the watch. As he kills each guy, he notices they all had the same watch. When he talks to Dwayne Robinson, he says, ‘I think these guys are professionals. Their IDs are too good. There’s no labels on their clothes and they all have the same watch.’”
However, this scene became problematic later near the end of shooting when de Souza rewrote the ending to include Gruber’s crew attempting to escape in an ambulance and having limo driver Argyle (De’voreaux White) crash into them. The issue: the opening “synchronize your watches” scene had no ambulance in it, so it had to go for the sake of continuity.
“[Director] John [McTiernan] says to the editor, ‘Get the scissors in there. Cut as soon as you can when they get off the truck so we don’t see there’s no ambulance.’ Now without ‘Synchronize your watches’ all of these moments where Bruce looks at these guys’ watches makes no sense,” explained de Souza.
If you look closely, you can still spot McClane taking stock of Gruber’s watch as he takes a cigarette from McClane, but we no longer have any idea why that is significant due to the cuts.
Thanks to de Souza we can now say happy trails to that plot hole.