Eastwood had two films out this year. A Perfect World came out in 1993 and was set in 1963. In the Line of Fire also came out in 1993, is set in 1993; but has ghosts from 1963 haunting our main protagonist. Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan – A secret Service agent who was present at the Kennedy assassination – and perhaps it turns out had a chance to save the man on the day (turns out he just didn’t react due to his own disbelief in what was happening at the time; but would have been happy to take a bullet for him).
This tight and tense pot-boiler finds Horrigan on the trail of an assassin who is out to kill the current U.S. head honcho. The man they have to refer to as “Booth” gets locked in with Horrigan in many over the phone confrontations that see both characters toying, manipulating and even losing their tempers. It’s a real dramatic hook for the film that gives it real re-watch value.
The themes of assassin, protector, cowards, heroes, the aged versus the youthful are well weaved together as Frank has his low moments (not being able to keep up physically with the younger guys, getting ill and having it effect his judgment at a public rally) and his highs (his flirtatious nature with Lily, his directness with his bosses, and his thought process when acting on the leads he gains during his investigation).
Are there any bum notes? Well Dylan McDermott is a good actor and his character is fine, and it’s a shame when he takes a few bullets at the 2/3 mark. But then again he did have “Dead Meat” pasted all over his face. The scene when he does take the hit is memorable more so for the fact that it is scene where frank accepts the help from the man he is chasing in order to save his own life (at the cost of his integrity and his partners life it seems).
Gary Cole on the other hand who heads up the detail Eastwood is assigned to doesn’t get much of a look in, but does get to deliver some truly pointless and uselessly dramatic lines that seem slipped in there just to have a character acting up against Eastwood’s character. No sooner has he met the man is he in a heated discussion with Eastwood’s character. The scene is obviously there just to set up an introduction to this antagonistic superior (who is only antagonistic because the screenplay deems he should be just another pinhead in the way, but for no logical reason) and also to introduce Rene Russo’s very likeable female agent Lily. At the end of this short scene Cole literally had to leave the room with the line “I don’t have time for this! I have to pull 75 agents out of Miami.” What the hell is he even on about?!!
There are plenty of notable actors who do pop in though, and the drive of the film is hugely engrossing. Getting back to Russo – she displayed natural charm when she grabbed audience’s attention in Lethal Weapon 3. Here she does similar work and plays well onscreen with Eastwood. Eastwood will forever be a lady charmer no matter what age he is at. Here he is in his 60’s and has no issue with being vocal in his jokey behaviour towards her character, winking and smiling all the way. It’s a romantic trait for Eastwood; the wink.
A different trait is the Eastwood Cough. Eastwood has a real actor’s fake cough onscreen. And you will see him doing the Eastwood cough in countless films. Unforgiven, Gran Torino, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart all feature great Eastwood coughing. And in this film he gets the flu and is coughing up a storm. Ok that’s an odd thing to notice (like Timothy Dalton being the only Bond to laugh loudly), but you notice these things when you marathon a lot of films in a short period.
Quite why Eastwood seems to get passed up for acting honours at awards shows is a mystery. Unforgiven is probably the biggest of these injustices, but In the Line of Fire has him in quite an intense role. Malkovich was luckier and got himself a supporting nod, losing to Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. I like Jones, but there isn’t much about that film that I remember. And compared to other roles he has performed – that one was not one of his greatest. Malkovich has some choice rants, and this is one of his best roles. He isn’t over-acting like in the great fun Con-Air. He is a man who has the courage of his own twisted convictions. You even cheer for him when he executes a couple of John Milius dressing duck hunters.
The scripted phone conversations are where the real meat of his role is at. The rest of the time we are either observing through great editing what he is up to or the rest of the cast are talking about him whilst he is not on screen. It’s a great way to up your bad guy by having them spoken about when they are not on screen.
Geeks out there will also spot Tobin (Jigsaw) Bell in a small role at the start of the film asking Eastwood to “Pop” his partner so they can do some counterfeit business – I think at this time of his career he was getting support bad guy roles (The Firm, The Quick & the Dead).
Now obviously the man who brought it all together was Mr. Das Boot himself, Wolfgang Peterson. He is Mr. Das Boot to many, but considering I have yet to see that masterpiece I shall simply keep referring to him as Mr. Never-ending Story. He has time and again proved himself quite the master of building tension for audiences – and this could well be his “Hollywood” highlight.
The film balances the thrills, drama and comedic moments well. If I am fully honest though I was a little bit let down at the end. Now the moments when Frank is finding out about “Skellom” are great and the tension mounts beautifully right up to the moment where Frank defeats booth in taking the bullet meant for the president. But from this moment onwards it sort of falters. But then after this they still have to deliver more in order to dispose of our bad guy. Personally I would have dealt with him right after the attempted assassination attempt. But this contrived ending in the elevator is clearly to give Booth and Frank a face to face meeting and a chance for one last discussion. But it all ends rather anticlimactically. A sharpshooter and a limp fight later and our bad guy finds himself on the dangle. He then proves himself (much as Frank did in taking a bullet) by letting himself drop to his own death, despite Frank offering him for help. I give it a pass though as it is a lovely juxtaposition of the moment when Booth saved Franks life earlier in the film.
The film then wraps up with frank heading into retirement (and doing so with a nice scathing remark of the press in the process) and enjoying knowing things about birds. This was Eastwood’s big money maker in the 90s. When a pensioner can make this a hit you have to wonder why studios’d are always casting so young these days.