Sony // 1993 // 127 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // March 20th, 2001
An assassin on the loose. A president in danger. Only one man stands between them...
A big-budget, A-list, blockbuster Hollywood action film, In The Line of Fire hardly seems like one. Detailed, gut-wrenching character motivation, intelligent writing and dialogue, genuine human emotion, subtly powerful performances, and a keen sense of knife-edged drama all combine to make this a film worthy of enduring acclaim. Released early on in 1997 as a movie-only disc, Columbia TriStar makes up for that with In The Line of Fire: Special Edition, combining a top-notch technical presentation and a commendable collection of extra content.
Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is a living legend -- the only active agent to have lost a President. On duty that fateful morning in Dallas, Texas, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Frank has lived with the torment of failure ever since, wondering if he could have saved his President, if he really had the courage to take a killer's bullet. Relegated to chasing counterfeiters with his green partner, Al D'Andrea (Dylan McDermott), Frank is also called upon to assist in the investigation of potential threats to the President.
One of these threats rapidly becomes more than an a potential threat. Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), who adopts "Booth" as his moniker, has carefully studied the events of Dallas and the aftermath of Frank Horrigan's career. "Booth" begins a cat and mouse game with Frank, bluntly stating his intention to kill the President but only telling Frank just enough to "keep him in the game." Aside from matching wits with a wily Mitch Leary, Frank finds his return to the Presidential Protective Detail far from a bed of roses. His supervisor, Agent in Charge Bill Watts (Gary Cole) is a prickly, humorless overlord, and Presidential Chief of Staff Harry Sargent (Fred Dalton Thompson) sees Frank Horrigan as an interfering has-been who threatens to disrupt a hectic, desperate fight for re-election. Even colleague Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) is initially icy towards the old-school Horrigan, though her compassion is evident when she realizes how badly Horrigan has suffered ever since that day in Dallas.
Frank Horrigan pursues every clue, every scrap of evidence as he fights to pin down Leary and foil his murderous plan. Good luck and skilled investigation point him towards a deadly showdown with the equally determined Mitch Leary at a high-powered dinner reception in Los Angeles. Inches and seconds determine who lives and who dies.
Mitch Leary: There's no cause left worth fighting for, Frank. All we have is the game. I'm on offense, you're on defense.
Frank Horrigan: Well, when do we start playing the game?
Mitch Leary: The clock's ticking, Frank.
In The Line of Fire is a well-polished gem on so many levels, beginning with Jeff Maguire's Oscar nominated screenplay. The secret is writing what you know, for if you base your creation on a sound foundation of knowledge, the plot and characters you build upon it will grow and flourish. So it is here, where the core of In The Line of Fire is knowing why these highly trained and oh so professional people want such a demanding job, where taking a bullet can be a job well done. Authentic detail about their beliefs and actions, showing the minute attention to detail that the Service demands, all of these are products of a careful writer who takes the time to learn about his chosen subject and incorporate this knowledge into the script.
All of this impressive detail would be for naught without a well-crafted story and finely drawn characters, but again In The Line of Fire meets the test. Very early on, we know that this duel between Frank Horrigan and Mitch Leary is destined for a harrowing confrontation in the final act, but watching the tense, well-paced twists and turns unfold before our eyes is a pleasure to behold. What keeps us glued to the screen from start to finish is learning about the complexities of our protagonists.
Frank Horrigan is a typical Clint Eastwood (Absolute Power, Unforgiven, The Gauntlet) role, a flawed man who struggles against the weight of his past to find redemption. He takes the outlines of Frank Horrigan and makes the role his own, filling him out with charm, deprecating humor, and a wealth of concealed pain. Equally important to the success of the film is John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire, Being John Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons). Arguably robbed of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994, Malkovich has the difficult task of taking a potentially one dimensional villain and turning him into a complex character on par with Eastwood's Frank Horrigan. His Mitch Leary is frightening in his detached, coldly remorseless manner, but the tragedy of a man who is so driven to perish in a blaze of suicidal revenge evokes our sympathy even as we fear him.
Backing up our main characters is a deep pool of talent. As usual, Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair(1999), Outbreak, Lethal Weapon 3) shines, projecting a convincing professionalism and sensual toughness while allowing us to believe that she could soften sufficiently to feel for the lonely Frank Horrigan. The rest do well with their limited supporting roles, including the perfectly priggish Gary Cole (Office Space, Fatal Vision), conflicted, doubting rookie Dylan McDermott ("The Practice," Steel Magnolias), wise sage John Mahoney ("Frasier," Frantic), and pompous politico (Senator) Fred Dalton Thompson (Die Hard 2, The Hunt for Red October).
The anamorphic video transfer is excellent across the board, even more so considering this is very likely the same high quality transfer that was made four years ago for the movie-only disc. Colors are boldly saturated, the picture is decently crisp and nearly free of dirt and defects, and only minor edge enhancement detracts from the picture. Not quite as good as the best these days, but nearly so.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has weathered the intervening years a bit better than the fabulous picture. I cannot find any serious fault here, with a wide and deep soundstage and natural, crisp sound. From the quietest mechanical sound, to Eastwood's jazz plinkings, to Ennio Morricone's warmly dramatic score, to the boisterous energy of the action scenes, all are handled with clarity and detail. Panning from channel to channel is exceptionally smooth, and channel separation is superb. The rear surrounds are used in a modestly aggressive fashion, helping to create an immersive feel for the numerous crowd scenes and for punching up the action scenes. With your subwoofer called upon to offer support early and often, it's a pleasing mix all around.
Making up for the previous bare-bones release, a wealth of extras is included in this aptly named Special Edition. Deleted scenes are always a favorite with me, for they let us in on juicy bits of plot or character development that were sacrificed for various reasons. These reasons, sometimes clear, sometimes not, in turn give the audience insight into the director's thinking processes and vision for the film. Here, five quick deleted scenes are included, which seem to have been trimmed primarily for pacing and overall length reasons. I do regret that "Hat Joke" wasn't in the final cut. It grows Frank Horrigan just a bit, adding just a light touch to that scene. The director's commentary shows that Wolfgang Petersen is learning how to do a good commentary track. Avoiding the "describe what is on the screen disease" I noted in his Air Force One commentary, here he is an endless source of background, insight and personal stories with a narrator keeping things moving along. Overall, a good commentary.
The "In The Line of Fire: The Ultimate Sacrifice" featurette (22 minutes) covers the usual behind-the-scenes territory, with interviews of various actors and crew (producer, scriptwriter, technical advisor), film clips, and brief interview segments and video clips explaining the operation and training of real Secret Service agents. The latter is covered in much more interesting detail in the "Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service" featurette (20 minutes) originally produced for Showtime. The training video segments are priceless and the short review of the Agency's history (including video of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan) is equal parts fascinating and chilling, though the duplication of interviews and movie-specific material with the previous featurette is mildly disappointing.
A bare five minutes in length, the "How'd They Do That?" featurette covers the digital wizardry employed to use real campaign footage in the film, multiply a thousand or so extras many times over into massive crowds, and insert appropriately aged images of Clint Eastwood into pictures and other historical documents. Short, but to the point. In similar fashion, I loved the "Catching The Counterfeiters" featurette (just over five minutes) that skipped through basic means of counterfeiting and the ingenious anti-counterfeiting components that are now incorporated into our paper currency.
The talent files are a bit skimpy and limited to director Petersen and the three main actors. Completing the content are eleven TV spots (about five minutes total), trailers for Air Force One, Das Boot, and the (poorly received) In The Line of Fire teaser trailer. Personally, I like the teaser. It sets up the parallels between the past and the present, as well as Frank Horrigan's guilty torment, without terrible spoilers. I guess people just don't like to be reminded too strongly of that fateful day in Dallas? Menus are nicely animated, using film clips and music, and the scene selections use full-motion video.
Whoever designed the new disc art should be taken out back and whipped unmercifully. Both of Clint Eastwood's pictures on the front look horrible compared to the real person. It sort of reminds me of a Madame Tussaud's wax-figure. Simply terrible. Rene Russo looks better, but they chose a really odd picture for her. If I had to pick, I would have chosen the original theatrical cover art used on the movie-only disc.
If I were Rene Russo, I would hunt down the person who did the two-page booklet insert and smack them around for a while. On the back, along with the chapter listings, are listings for movies directed by/starring Wolfgang Petersen, John Malkovich, Dylan McDermott, and Rene Russo. What movie is listed for Rene Russo? Buddy. Of all the movies you could list for her, why THAT stinker? Nearly any of her other movies would have been a better choice. Otherwise, this adequate booklet includes the brief production notes.
Though not a criticism of the movie, it is hard to believe that composer Ennio Morricone has still never won an Oscar. His composing filmography at the IMDb spans forty years and 393 movies, including several Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood "Spaghetti Westerns," The Untouchables, Hamlet (1990), and a few others. As he remarks in a recent issue of "Entertainment Weekly," even other composers are embarrassed he hasn't won yet. Who is he, the Susan Lucci of composing? I just hope he is justly honored while he's around to enjoy it!
From the writing, to the casting, to the movie as a whole, the creative team for In The Line of Fire wanted to make an intelligent, dramatic film that would please Secret Service agents with its accuracy and positive portrayal, but still give the general audience value for their entertainment dollar. It is a tribute to their collective skill that In The Line of Fire does exactly that. Strongly recommended for rental and purchase ($25 retail), no DVD collection should be without it.
A justified use of DVD if I ever saw one! Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2001 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Behind the Scenes Featurette
* Secret Service Featurette
* "How'd They Do That?" Featurette
* Catching the Counterfeiters Featurette
* Theatrical Trailers
* TV Spots
* Talent Files
* Production Notes (Booklet)
* U.S. Secret Service
* Clint Eastwood.net