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In The Line Of Fire

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, John Mahoney, Gregory Alan Williams, Jim Curley, Clyde Kusatsu

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

In 1990s the author of this review learned the hard way not to expect much from Hollywood blockbusters, especially those based on "high concepts". One of those, based on the "Secret Service agent must stop super-efficient assassin from killing President", didn't look good, indicating nothing more than poor man's DAY OF THE JACKAL. However, every now and then, there comes a pleasant surprise and those "high concept" films turn out much better than expected. IN THE LINE OF FIRE, 1993 thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen, was one of such pleasant surprises.

The protagonist of the film is Frank Horrigan (played by Clint Eastwood), Secret Service agent who approaches retirement still haunted by his failure to save President Kennedy's life in Dallas three decades ago. A chance of redemption arises when a routine investigation discovers someone who seems quite determined to kill sitting US President. That individual (played by John Malkovich) disappears only to start making phone calls to Horrigan in which he taunts the old agent with his plan for another presidential assassination. After many unsuccessful attempts to trace the calls, Horrigan is convinced of assassin's technical capability for the act, so he pulls some administrative strings in order to return to presidential security detail. This happens in the middle of election campaign, and Horrigan is faced with the open animosity by President's chief of staff Harry Sargent (played by Fred Dalton Thompson), man is willing to trade President's security for broader campaign schedule and extra poll numbers. As the assassin methodically prepares for the hit, Horrigan desperately tries to find him and in the same time fights the uphill battle against bureacratic superiors who don't want him on the job.

IN THE LINE OF FIRE has its share of cliches and plot holes characteristic for "high concept" film. It begins with a highly implausible scene of a Secret Service agent (whose face had appeared in national media through decades) working as an undercover agent. The protagonist has a partner, played by Dylan MacDermott, who thinks about retirement, and every experienced viewer can predict his chances to survive the film. Of course, presidential security detail also features a stunningly beautiful woman agent who just happens to fall for the protagonist who could easily be her grandfather. Rene Russo, who plays that woman, does rather good job. And, finally, the chief villain, who is supposed to be top professional assassin, just happens to enjoy long phone conversation with the men who are supposed to stop him and thus seriously jeopardise his mission.

But, despite those and some other shortcomings (including usually monotonous musical score by Ennio Morricone), IN THE LINE OF FIRE is more than decent thriller. The main reason is in Clint Eastwood, whose charismatic presence and old age make a very convincing protagonist. Another reason is John Malkovich, who simply shines in the role that would be every actor's job - person who wears many different disguises and also happens to be utter lunatic and cold calculated professional in the same time. Malkovich's talent is such that we are able to forget the implausibilities and contradictions of this character. But the best thing about IN THE LINE OF FIRE is its authenticity. Screenwriter Jeff Maguire and director Wolfgang Petersen obviously researched Secret Service very well and the scenes featuring every day details of presidential security or the ordinary life in that law enforcement agency look like they belong to documentary. Petersen is also very skillful in the use of CGI and combine actors with documentary footage - first by planting images of young Eastwood into films depicting Dallas in 1963, then by using 1992 Clinton rallies for the scenes of fictional campaign in the film. And, finally, this film does stray from the cliches in its finale - character of young and sychophantic Agent-in-Charge, played by Gary Cole, openly dislikes Horrigan and disregards his security concerns, and yet, in the critical moment, he won't allow his personal bias to stand against his professional standards.

All in all, IN THE LINE OF FIRE is way bellow the standards set by classics like DAY OF THE JACKAL, but it is nevertheless surprisingly good thriller that stands out among many similar films made in 1990s Hollywood.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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