Running time: 2h 8min
Directed by Wolfgang Peterson
Written by Jeff Maguire
Starring Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo
An assassin (John Malkovich) intends to kill the president, and in the process tries to emotionally connect with secret service agent Frank Horrigan (Eastwood) amid a deadly game of cat and mouse. While the game is on, Horrigan in turn tries to connect with attractive fellow agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo). In the Line of Fire is an exciting and entertaining tale of intrigue and violence that has the viewer on the edge of their seat.
In the Line of Fire is an effective thriller that is elevated to greatness by the superlative performance of John Malkovich. Eastwood, Russo, and others are all good, but not nearly as captivating as Malkovich. He is so good in this role that, despite all the horrible things he does during the film, you almost root for him over Eastwood.
The gradual reveal of Malkovich’s assassin is masterfully done. He starts out as a mystery – not even his face is fully revealed at first, and as the film goes on, the viewer is offered longer and longer glimpses into him, his life, and motivations. On the commentary track director Peterson compared this to Jaws (1975), where the threat and mystery of the shark is partly based on how little it is seen. This approach works superbly both in Jaws and in In the Line of Fire. Another good example of this method (partly done by necessity, of course) would be the original Alien (1979).
For the most part, the script for In the Line of Fire is tight, and the viewer cares about what is happening on the screen, all the while accepting it as at least somewhat plausible. The weak point of the film is the romantic subplot between Eastwood and Russo. While the romance is not completely out of the realm of reality, the age difference between the actors (Eastwood was 63 and Russo was 39) does stretch the suspension of disbelief of the viewer, especially these days. But this is, of course, a common trope in Hollywood, and while the tone of the otherwise tense film feels slightly off during (some of) the romantic moments, it does not hinder the movie’s effectiveness too much. Also, it must be noted that Clint Eastwood was very well preserved in the 1990’s, and still a good-looking man.
The film looks beautiful. As I learned from the commentary track, director Peterson tried to emulate the works of Edward Hopper (known for the iconic painting Nighthawks) in the visual style of the film. He succeeded in this endeavour – the colors and atmosphere, the ambiance, especially in the bar scenes, has the same feel. It should be noted that Hopper influenced a great many film makers in their visual style (even The Simpsons has parodied Nighthawks), so In the Line of Fire is of course not unique in its pursuit of this distinct vision of Americana.
The action scenes are exhilarating, and the stunts were done for real, so they have real impact and stakes unlike some more modern films that utilize more cgi. With high resolution and the ability to pause, in a few action scenes you can spot the stunt double for Eastwood, but that is a very minor nitpick. There were some special effects done with computer and green screen (most of the crowd scenes at least), but they are not very noticeable even today.
Camera work, editing, sound, and music are all on point. A special mention goes to the music, which is done by legendary composer Ennio Morricone. All in all, the only weak spot of the film is the beforementioned romancesubplot, which is not even that glaring of a fault.
In the Line of Fire was nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Actor in a Supporting role (John Malkovich), Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Jeff Maguire), Screenplay, and Best Film Editing (Anne V. Coates). These are certainly areas where the movie excels.
Overall, In the Line of Fire is a great film – not perfect, but then again, what is? It is an immensely enjoyable movie that can be rewatched multiple times and still enjoyed, almost 30 years after it was made. It is a testament to the quality of this film that even my girlfriend, who usually does not enjoy the same kind of films that I do, liked it.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: at least 3
Would I want to rewatch it? Definitely