IN THE LINE OF FIRE, 1993
Ageing Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) uncovers information about an assassin plotting to kill the president. Frank is still haunted by the JFK assassination he was unable to prevent; something that the assassin Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) exploits to gain a psychological advantage over Frank. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues with Frank fighting his memories of Dallas and the deadly professional killer Leary to save the president’s life.
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Some actors struggle to seize satisfying roles when they get older. In many cases they get struck with playing fathers, mentors and essentially pedestrian supporting roles. Not Clint Eastwood, In The Line of Fire placed him as the central lead in a top-billing thriller. Clint was still a formidable leading man (albeit with rougher edges and grey hair) he’s been said to: “wear his age like a favorite hat!” The simple fact was that an audience would still buy him as a leading man and his age was merely another challenge for his character to overcome.
In The Line of Fire throws Clint straight into the action with a tense situation requiring him to fire a gun at his partner. In a slight reference to the famous Dirty Harry routine, Clint weighs up the gun to gage if there might be a bullet inside it before he opens fire. Very early on in the film the point is made that Clint is still an exciting action player. He balances this with a witty humor that disarms any of his skeptics. By the same token his age is also addressed in the film, when Frank asks the Secret Service Director Sam (John Mahoney) if he can be reassigned to protect the president Sam replies: “…Frank you’re a dinosaur!” Of course Frank’s tenacity for catching the dangerous killer wins Sam over.
Underneath Frank’s charisma, humor and smarts lies a deep conflict. Clint literally falls apart on screen as Malkovich coldly recounts Kennedy’s last day. Clint’s eyes widen like a doll’s as he is made to face all the fears he buried years ago after that fateful day. The scene is made even more chilling by the inclusion of Eastwood in the Kennedy footage. We see a young Eastwood as he used to be contrasting with the old man he is at present. It reinforces the point that Clint is no longer an energetic, lean Harry Callahan and so Frank must battle this new evil with a new set of tools. Frank must find a way to fight Leary with his mind and find where Leary’s buttons are!
Frank quickly adapts to meet Leary on an equal playing field; Frank uncovers the evidence surrounding Leary’s chilling past: “I saw a picture of, uh, your friend lying on the floor with his throat cut.” Frank grows in power over Leary playing him at his own game, Leary is now under the psychological microscope: “Oh, but you know about me? Do you have any idea what I've done for God and country? Some pretty FUCKING HORRIBLE things!” This is a Hollywood thriller at the highest level; both men are in conflict with themselves as well as each other. The scene is brought to its super intense climax as Frank hangs off the side of the rooftop with his gun pointed at Leary. In a daring, cold-blooded moment Leary challenges Frank by placing his mouth over Frank’s gun… jaws drop and you could hear a pin drop in the cinema as the audience hang on the cliff of suspense!
The final scene is no disappointment, we see Leary transform like a chameleon and Frank’s furious detective skills pushed to their limit. The final battle between Frank and Leary clearly exemplifies the type of hero Clint has played in his later career. Unlike Harry Callahan who would normally shoot a crazed psychopath dead, our Frank Horrigan holds out his hand to help his criminal adversary up to safety stating: “…it’s my job!” Eastwood used to be a registered Republican in the 1950’s but now later in life considers himself a libertarian and one could argue his subsequent roles reflect this.
A lot of thrillers ruin themselves by putting too much emphasis on surprise twists etc and don’t work as well when watched a second time. But In the Line of Fire is a thriller that gets better with every watch. The drama, the story and the characters are so memorable that (like a great song) you want to relive the experience again and again!