Friday, June 12, 2020
In The Line Of Fire - 1993
The thing that strikes me about it today is that there is no wasted time during the 2 hours and 8 minutes. The story holds your attention the whole time, and every scene is impactful to the story and characters. Even the minimal love story is important because, without it, our hero is not able to progress in his pursuit of the villain.
In The Line Of Fire is the story of Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood). His past comes back to haunt him when rogue former CIA agent Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) starts to contact him about his plan to assassinate the President of the United States. You see, Frank was there when President Kennedy was killed 30 years earlier and comes back into direct protection of the current president when he knows he is in danger.
When I remember the movie from the first few times I had seen it, I remember the ingenious method used to create a weapon he can use to get close enough to attempt to kill the president. At the time, it seemed brilliant and new. Now, it still seems pretty brilliant, though I'm thinking with 3-D printers, the art of making the weapon might be lost. If you haven't seen the movie, I won't spoil it for you.
I consider this a psychological thriller, a cat-and-mouse game where the bad guy taunts the good guy, trying to push him to over-react. And the good guy does over-react, which is necessary to extend the story. Because you also have the old-school versus new-school at play here. Frank is obviously older than most of the other Secret Service agents, and so his methods are questioned by young and old alike.
Eastwood is masterful at being Eastwood here. He is gruff yet has a softer side (he plays the piano), and everything you'd expect. He's not Dirty Harry, but still has enough of an edge that you completely buy the character. Malkovich rarely disappoints. He is cold and calculating, playing a long game, and we never know exactly when he is going to make his attempt at assassination. Many times he could have, but doesn't. And he could kill Frank as well, but doesn't.
A pivotal scene occurs when Frank pursues Leary on some rooftops, and as often is the case, one jump doesn't quite make it and he left is hanging on to the edge. Leary apparently isn't ready for Frank to die, and wants to help him up. Frank draws his gun and could take out the threat right then and there, though it could cost him his own life when he'd fall. He allows the rescue, but in the process loses his partner (Dylan McDermott) whom Leary shoots and kills on the spot. Frank then has to add that to his list of "should I have done differently?" moments.
In the end, the characters get to where you'd expect them to. There are no plot twists at the end, and they are not needed. We wind up perfectly satisfied with how things play out, including Frank making a go of it with fellow agent Lilly (Rene Russo), who stood by him the whole movie, despite his often sexist remarks. I can't think of many better movies in this genre, and the only reason I would think that this one is not on the AFI list is because, if they could have, the list would contain a disproportionate number of Clint Eastwood movies. Couldn't blame them if they had added at least one more.