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Thursday, December 14, 2017

In the Line of Fire (Reviewed by Dad)

I envy the kids for being able to enjoy something we aging movie fans can never do again: experience great filmmakers for the first time. And one of the greats we’ve been tapping (albeit in a very limited fashion) is Clint Eastwood. For example, earlier this year we enjoyed (and reviewed) Eastwood’s Oscar-winning star vehicle Unforgiven, but have yet to watch any of the Sergio Leone “Man With No Name” classics that picture riffed on so successfully. Similarly, while Eastwood’s best performances happened when he was a young and then an old man, we recently watched a transitional picture of his I remember seeing at the drive-ins during the 1990s called In the Line of Fire. In this 1993 thriller, Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, a secret service agent haunted by his failure to stop the killing of John F. Kennedy, whom he was bodyguarding on the day of the assassination. Having failed in his duty back in ‘63, Horrigan remains on the force doing undercover work, refusing retirement until he can get one last chance at redemption. That opportunity materializes when Mitch Leary, a deadly assassin played masterfully by John Malkovich, decides to take out his troubled past on a sitting President currently involved in a tight re-election contest. That race means lots of campaign stops, requiring lots of coverage by trained agents. And given that Horrigan himself is caught up in the fixation driving Leary, he is able to leverage this unique position to get himself a spot on the Chief Executive’s bodyguard. At the same time, Horrigan is following clues to try to identify and track down the killer – including numerous direct phone calls (which, this being a crime thriller, can never be traced) – where Leary lovingly taunts his hunter, all the time getting ever closer to his own prey. The would-be murderer’s pathway reminded me of a similar journey James Fox took in Day of the Jackal with many near misses not stopping him from executing his ultimate plan, one which involves charming his way into a big campaign event, building a handgun from plastic (and thus invisible to metal detectors) and swapping out a variety of dorky wigs. Horrigan is not alone in his quest to prevent history from repeating itself. In addition to a cranky supervisor who continues to OK Frank’s proposals, and a bevy of new agents ever ready to tease him about his age, the team also includes Lilly Raines, one of those young agents, played by Renee Russo. Raines remains unconvinced that Frank should even be on the case, despite her sympathy for the man himself. This sympathy eventually flourishes into romance (leading to a hilarious bedroom scene shot low enough to watch both agents leave a trail of guns, bullets, knives, badges, cuffs and other secret service paraphernalia on the pathway to a hotel bed). And while Russo is always game to match up with an unlikely partner (such as in Get Shorty where she towered over her ex-husband played by Danny DeVito), her hookup with Eastwood remains the least interesting (and convincing) part of the picture, probably one of the star’s last flings with romancing much younger actresses on screen. This lack of romantic pizzazz did not diminish the tension of seeing agent and assassin locked in a crucible whose end result you’ll have to discover yourself (unless Ben spills the beans)... Ben Replies: I side with you on this one. I have not seen any of Eastwood’s older films that provided the basis for this one, so can’t compare much, but I definitely found In the Line of Fire riveting and engaging, if a little contrived at points. I was equally unaffected by the romantic piece, and would actually argue that Malkovich was the best thing about the film. He took excitement that Eastwood brought and mixed it with his weird charm. I have to confess--Eastwood really does old well, and would be surprised if I find him as a young actor to be better.

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