In The Line of Fire (1993)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Jeff Maguire
Produced by Jeff Apple
It’s once in a blue moon that Clint Eastwood comes aboard a production as an actor for hire, recommending a director but letting another company call the shots. If that arrangement results in a movie as sensational as Castle Rock Entertainment’s In The Line of Fire, it’s a wonder Eastwood doesn’t ride in the passenger seat more often. This A-class action thriller was the idea of producer Jeff Apple, who garnered studio interest in a movie about the Secret Service. Apple turned to a struggling screenwriter he knew named Jeff Maguire and while the resulting spec script was good enough to intrigue Dustin Hoffman and later Robert Redford, nothing happened until Maguire got the script to somebody who knew UTA agent Jeremy Zimmer. In the bidding war that ensued between Castle Rock and Paramount, the film and TV company co-founded by Rob Reiner won out.
The time In The Line of Fire spent baking may account for its richness of character, crispness of action and how organically the two blend. The novelty of a murder weapon coming together from a modeling kit is a nice touch, as is an aging hero trying to redeem his failure to protect one president by saving the neck of another. As Frank Horrigan, Eastwood seems compelled to bring out much more of his romantic side, and his randy chemistry with Rene Russo knocks years off his age. The central spoke is John Malkovich, a tremendous villain infused with more idealism and professional courtesy than typically afforded psycho killers in movies. The smaller the scale, the more energy and wit director Wolfgang Petersen seems capable of bringing to a thriller, of which this one ranks near the top of the form. Ennio Morricone employed a light but noticeably felt touch with his musical score.
After tangling with counterfeiters in a sting operation, Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) tickles the ivories in a D.C. bar. His new partner (Dylan McDermott) reminds Horrigan about a threat they were given to check out. The suspect isn’t home, but Horrigan discovers a wall devoted to the assassination of President Kennedy. Horrigan receives a call from the tenant, who gives the name “Booth” (John Malkovich) and expresses his admiration of Horrigan dating back to when he was JFK’s favorite agent. Booth announces his intention to kill the current president. Joining the hunt for the would-be assassin are Agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) and the agent in charge of the president’s detail (Gary Cole). Convinced that Booth will make a try for the President, long in the tooth Horrigan asks to be placed back on protective duty.
Booth continues to taunt Horrigan by phone, sympathizing with his adversary for the blame he took over Kennedy’s assassination. Though unable to trace the calls due to Booth’s technical superiority, the White House Chief of Staff (Fred Dalton Thompson) refuses to take the President out of the public eye during the re-election campaign. Using Booth’s interest in model toys to pursue him, Horrigan discovers their man is named Mitch Leary and during a foot chase, lifts his palm print from a car windshield. Horrigan discovers the CIA is also hunting Leary, a rogue operative the agency tried to let go. Removed from protective detail due to his obsession with Leary, Horrigan manages to close in on him as the assassin infiltrates a fundraiser at the Bonaventure Hotel in L.A. with a handmade pistol invulnerable to metal detectors.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 35 users: 97% for In The Line of Fire
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 74 for In The Line of Fire
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