Written by Jeff Maguire
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
In The Line of Fire is a suspense-filled thriller about the Secret Service. In contrast to the film Murder at 1600, which I also recently viewed, the Secret Service here is portrayed in a much better light; having a responsibility beyond covering up for the President and his family.
Clint Eastwood portrays aging Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan. In the beginning of the movie we see him at work undercover in Counterfeiting Investigations. Dylan McDermott is his new partner, Al D’Andrea.
A tip leads them to the apartment of a man we will later know as Mitch Leary. In that apartment, Frank finds a haunting reminder of his failure to protect the President as a young agent: clippings of the Kennedy assassination. There are many other clippings as well, all leading them to believe that another kook is on the loose with designs on trying to assassinate the current President. Unaware that this is no kook, but a psychotic killer who is watching them, Frank and Al leave the apartment to come back later with a warrant. When they do, it has been cleared of everything except a clipping showing a young Agent Horrigan with his head circled in red pen.
John Malkovich portrays Leary, and this is one of his best roles as he leads Agent Horrigan in a game of cat and mouse. Leary is a former CIA assassin who wants to make one last strike against the government he is angry with. His intention is to kill the President, knowing he will die as well. This means nothing since he knows his own agency has tried to kill him already.
But the game is the thing for Leary and he enjoys taunting Frank with his past failures. The fact that Agent Horrigan has to sit there and listen to it as other Secret Service agents attempt to trace the taunting calls is very believable, so we are not wondering why he doesn’t just hang up. The telephone conversations between the two men build the suspense throughout the film. Both Eastwood and Malkovich manage to convey the building tension between the characters when these conversations take place. At times Horrigan seems to be cracking under the relentless emotional abuse by Leary, while at others, we see Frank managing to break through the emotionally cool exterior of Leary. It is a thrilling game of cat and mouse as each side in this battle seems to have the upper-hand at different times.
Agent Horrigan also has a reputation as a bit of a renegade, which is what made his new partner so uncomfortable in the first place. Other agents in the field do not want to work with him, and through a series of set-ups by Leary, his reputation is further eroded. Only the Director, portrayed by John Mahoney, best known right now as Frasier‘s father, seems to really believe in him, and yet he keeps trying to do his job. Horrigan is moved from the President’s Detail after repeated requests by the Agent in charge (Gary Cole as Bill Watts), the White House Chief of Staff (Fred Thompson as Harry Sargent) and, finally, the President himself (Jim Curley).
Rene Russo portrays Agent Lilly Raines who is part of the President’s Detail and also ends up being a romantic interest for Agent Horrigan. Their romance is believable, even as they move through the cliches of his sexism of dismissing her as a secretary at their first meeting, as well as his arrogant attitude and reputation. Lilly seems to know what is going on inside Frank. Having been burned romantically by another Agent, she has sworn off romance on the job. When she sympathizes with him at various times it does not have the feeling of pity, but pure compassion. Lilly believes in him, but can see both sides of the argument.
Wolfgang Petersen has done an amazing job directing this film. Where it could have easily fallen into the usual predictability and cliches, he has managed to instead craft an exciting thriller. Credit also must go to write Jeff Maguire, especially for the dialogue while Leary and Horrigan are on the telephone. Eastwood and Malkovich are fantastic in these roles – it is as if it were written specifically for these two men.
The only drawback I would have to say is the predictability of the movie. As soon as Al talked about his wife and taking his kid to school in the first scene, I knew he was going to bite the dust at some point in this movie. There are some parts that are that terribly predictable. However, the movie works despite these parts – a great credit to the cast and crew.
The visual imagery especially around Washington D.C. was stunning as well. It almost felt like a travel documentary and made me want to visit! The monuments and parks looked absolutely pristine and perfect.
On the DVD there are a host of Special Features. Included are the usual Cast and Crew bios, and trailer, as well as the ability to view the film with a running commentary by the Director. The Deleted Scenes are:
— a scene of a woman trying to pick-up Agent Horrigan in the Piano Bar
— a conversation about a practical joke Frank played on a supervisor
— a conversation between Frank and Lilly prior to his being assigned to her team before the President’s trip to Los Angeles
— Agent Horrigan watching news coverage of him roughing up a bellman in the hotel lobby
— another conversation in the Piano Bar, this one with Lilly about being assigned to protect Fidel Castro.
There is a nice piece called The Ultimate Sacrifice where Wolfgang Petersen and Executive Producer Gail Katz discuss getting the cooperation of the Secret Service. They tell how former Director Robert Snow became their Technical Advisor. He then discusses the Secret Service and its duties. Another short piece talks about the Secret Service’s Counterfeit Investigation division.
There is another short piece about the special effects which mostly consist of digitally inserting images into different places. In some spots, actual clippings of John F. Kennedy had a young Clint Eastwood digitally inserted into them. At other times we see how campaign rallies were created to appear larger than they were.
Finally, there is a great documentary Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service. It was very interesting to see how much goes into being an agent and what training takes place.
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