Sony // 1993 // 128 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 30th, 2008
An assassin on the loose. A president in danger. Only one man stands between them.
Agent Frank Horrigan: "Why kill the President?"
Mitch Leary: "To punctuate the dreariness."
Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven) is haunted by his past. He was there when JFK was killed back in the 1960s. It wasn't his fault, but he still feels guilty. Thirty years later, he's back on duty protecting the President of the United States. However, there's a murderous villain out there (John Malkovich, Ripley's Game) who knows Horrigan's secret. He's planning to take out the current President, and defies Horrigan to try and stop him. Unless Horrigan can find this elusive villain quickly, the nation's leader will be assassinated. Will Horrigan be forced to place himself In the Line of Fire in order to stop a killer?
I can remember a time when the words "directed by Wolfgang Peterson" excited me. Once upon a time, Peterson was a terrific action director. Say what you want about the likes of Outbreak and Air Force One, I found them to be immensely entertaining. Sadly, Peterson's recent efforts such as Troy and Poseidon have been considerably below par for the director. They lack the passion and energy that Peterson's early Hollywood blockbusters contained. One can only wonder whether Peterson will manage to make a truly entertaining film again, but at least we can still enjoy his early work. In the Line of Fire is one of Peterson's very best films, and has now made the jump to the 1080p world of Blu-ray.
The handful of roles Clint Eastwood has played in the past 20 years have mostly been limited to films that Eastwood himself directed. However, Clint made an exception for In the Line of Fire. This is a part that seems tailor-made for the actor, and the film proved to be one of Eastwood's most popular cinematic outings of the 1990s. Much like Paul Newman, Eastwood was able to adapt his image very successfully as he aged. Rather than trying to keep playing the same action hero role over and over, Eastwood frequently added the unavoidable element of his age into many of the roles he has played in his later years. Here, there is a nice conflict between Frank Horrigan's mental abilities and his physical limitations. He's certainly got all of the mental instincts that a top-level Secret Service agent needs, but he has trouble keeping up with some of the basic physical requirements.
Eastwood has also played a social dinosaur on more than one occasion, here exhibiting a certain level of skepticism toward the idea of working with a female agent (stirring up memories of similar elements from The Enforcer). Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair) is quite good in her role. She provides a certain level of pleasure for the audience by responding to Horrigan's barbs with sharp wit rather than annoyance. Of course there's a bit of romance between the two, and it's surprising to note just how much chemistry the two have together despite the significant age difference. I've always enjoyed one particularly amusing scene in which the two disrobe for a seemingly endless amount of time, tossing off one piece of deadly equipment after another. The punch line never fails to make me laugh.
As good as Eastwood and Russo are, John Malkovich is the one who walks away with this movie. This role has long been considered one of the high points of Malkovich's career as an actor, and it's easy to see why. Malkovich puts a dark and savage spin on his uniquely insinuating style of acting and creates a villain who is both immensely charismatic and genuinely intimidating. Yes, we all know that this sort of film will probably only end one way, but Malkovich is convincing enough to make viewers ponder whether In the Line of Fire might have a nasty ending. Elsewhere, there are nice supporting roles for Tobin Bell, Fred Thompson, and John Mahoney.
It is a credit to Peterson's direction and Jeff Maguire's script that this film is considered an action-packed thriller. That's the general impression that the film leaves on the viewer, and yet it really doesn't contain very much action. Here, the most exciting scenes are not car chases or shootouts (not that those are completely absent), but very tense and well-written dialogue scenes that have a threat of violence hanging over them. There are a lot of summer movies these days that are plenty of fun to watch, but there aren't too many that are fun to listen to. Hearing sharp and intelligent dialogue between mature adults is a more-than welcome asset for a film like this.
The hi-def transfer is a very good one, perhaps even a little bit better than you might expect for a film made in 1993. In the Line of Fire looks like it could have been made just a couple years ago. The tasteful and classy color scheme and set design prevent the film from aging badly, though of course clunky-looking computers and other electronics can't be avoided. The sound is very well-balanced, with careful attention to every little detail. At times Ennio Morricone's pulsating score is dialed down a little too low in favor of capturing all of the sound design, but it's not a terrible trade. All of the extras here are borrowed from the previous DVD release. The featurettes offer an interesting comparison between this film and the real-life Secret Service, but the commentary with Wolfgang Peterson is pretty uneventful.
The film only disappoints just a little during the climactic action sequence, in which the hero and the villain more or less abandon their individuality and very briefly become pawns of the plot. It happens a lot less here than in most action movies, but it happens nonetheless.
In the Line of Fire is exciting, intelligent, and even charming entertainment. I'd recommend it to anyone as Friday-night rental. The hi-def transfer is strong enough, though a lack of new supplements may discourage owners of the DVD from double-dipping.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Chinese (Simplified)
* Chinese (Traditional)
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Wolfgang Peterson
* "Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service"
* "How'd They Do That?"
* "The Ultimate Sacrifice"
* "Catching the Counterfeiters"
* Deleted Scenes