Secret Service agent Clint Eastwood might have let one president be killed on his watch, but he’s not going to let that happen again!
And so begins a very entertaining action movie with Clint doing what he does best, a captivating, intelligent villain, a ‘cat and mouse’ battle between the two with the killing of a president hanging in the balance.
In the Line of Fire was a movie I always considered to be the last great action movie Clint has done. Here he’s running around, pulling out his gun, throwing punches. He would still have movies where he got to stretch some of those elements of that old Eastwood muscle, but none to this degree or this much fun.
Eastwood is Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan. Horrigan is the last active-duty agent from the detail who was guarding President John F. Kennedy on that fateful Dallas day when he was assassinated. He’s still haunted by his failure to protect his commander-in-chief all those years ago, but continues to serve his country.
Between going undercover to bust counterfeiters with his new rookie partner Al (Dylan McDermott), Horrigan spends his off-hours hanging out in a local bar, pouring back drinks and playing the piano.
Then one day Frank and Al get wind of this suspicious character who is gunning for the president. Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) is determined, smart and deadly. He takes an interest in Frank and enjoys pushing his buttons over his botched protection of President Kennedy. He questions whether Frank is willing to ‘take a bullet’.
So Frank gets back on protective presidential duty. Running alongside limos and eyeballing the crowd in an attempt to stop Leary with whatever he’s planning. His age is catching up to him and inevitably we hear the tried and trusted line, “you’re too old for this shit”.
Naturally thick-headed bureaucratic bosses lecture Eastwood every chance they get and believe his actions are a detriment to the president’s image in this reelection year.
In between all the phone conversations with Leary and the tracking down of leads, Frank makes time with fellow Secret Service agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) and sparks start to fly. Maybe he’s found something more to live for than just playing piano. Now if only he can stop Leary and save this presidents life!
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen In The Line of Fire is a slickly made thriller with two very effective performances at its center. Petersen builds suspense with some nicely put together sequences. They aren’t necessarily original, but they do work remarkably well.
For instance, we’ve all seen rooftop chases before, but the film tries to make this one a bit more special with some creative stunts and camerawork to sell the idea of Clint actually hanging off the side of a six-story building.
We have the big crowd scenes of presidential motorcades, rallies and old footage of President Kennedy with young Clint in the background. The early use of CGI sells this stuff surprisingly well. Of course the story gets a little unbelievable, but it’s hard not to just want to roll with it all and enjoy the ride.
Eastwood and Malkovich are the ideal good guy and bad guy. Eastwood gets to show off a bit more range than his usual macho screen persona. Here he’s a tormented guy so he gets to reveal a softer side in some scenes.
Plus, he gets the opportunity to be charming and romantic as he makes Russo swoon. They have an unexpected chemistry too as they banter back and forth while the romance starts to bloom.
Then Malkovich is a hoot. I think this was the movie that really made him a fan favorite and got general audiences to really take notice of this him. Getting to be the bad guy in a Clint Eastwood movie probably gave him more exposure with general movie audiences than any of his ‘arty’ and less mainstream performances he had done up to that point.
He’s a lot of fun to watch as he morphs into different disguises, his hypnotic quiet voice breaking into uncontrollable yelling and his nonchalant way of dispatching potential witnesses that might mess up his plans.
At the time of its release the idea of a movie about the Secret Service and portraying a fictionalized president was relatively new. Looking back at all the fictionalized movie and TV presidents we’ve seen since In The Line of Fire could probably fill up the West Wing.
One thing that didn’t work exactly is the film giving Eastwood a memorable line that would join the ranks of his classic and often repeated ones like, “Do you feel lucky?” and “Go ahead, make my day”.
Here it seemed they were hoping Eastwood’s succinct reply to Malkovich’s vow that he will kill the President was groomed for it. Eastwood answers back, “That’s not going to happen”. The line was prominently used in the teaser trailer, but it never became the signature crowd pleasing line that they probably were hoping would infect audiences.
In The Line of Fire is an entertaining actioner with some good performances, enjoyable supporting actors, exciting and suspenseful chases, and a few killer phone conversations, What else could an Eastwood fan ask for?