In the Line of Fire (1993)

Posted: November 22, 2013 in Movie Review
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In the Line of Fire (1993)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Starring: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott

The last three generations of Americans have all been witness to an unspeakable national tragedy, each of which is often accompanied with the phrase, “You’ll always remember where you were when…” For my parents’ generation, that event was the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963. No one who lived that day will ever forget where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Men and women alike openly wept, and wondered how and why a thing like this could ever happen. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions of those present at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on that fateful day. I think of the children (who would now be in their 50’s or early 60’s) accompanying their parents to see the President in person, scarred for life by the sight of his gory demise. That thought disturbs me as much as the violent footage provided by the Zapruder film. I also think of the Secret Service agents. How does one cope with failing to protect the Leader of the Free World?

1993’s “In the Line of Fire” catches up with one Secret Service agent who, then a man in his 20’s,  heard the first shot and failed to react in time to put himself in the path of the fatal bullet. Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood), now in his 50’s, is still haunted by his past failure. Despite this, Frank remains an active agent, the only one left out of those who were guarding Kennedy. When a new plot to kill the current President presents itself in the form of Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), Frank becomes obsessive in his pursuit of the cunning assassin. His younger superiors don’t trust him, especially when he causes the Commander-in-Chief embarrassment in front of live TV cameras by overreacting to the sound of a popping balloon. You’d think that erring on the side of caution would be more greatly appreciated.

Leary is the one responsible for the balloon incident, although no one has any idea until later when he makes a phone call to Frank. one of many. Leary is no dummy. He knows that every single call he makes is being monitored, and he doesn’t care. Among other things, he is a master of disguise. The calls can be traced, but how do the Secret Service ever expect to catch him when he always has a different appearance? When talking of his plan to kill the President, he cites both Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, saying that Booth had more style. This is clearly a sick individual, one who feels betrayed by someone or something, but also clear is his intelligence, his determination, and his efficiency in the taking of a life.

John Malkovich is effective as Mitch Leary. He can present himself as calm and collective, but can also appear unhinged when the right buttons are pushed. In portraying both sides of his character, Malkovich delivers a haunting performance. He is easily the best part of this movie. In most other areas, “In the Line of Fire” is a rather ordinary thriller. Even Clint Eastwood is average. He seems to be playing essentially the same part he’d been playing since the first “Dirty Harry” movie in 1971, that of the justice-seeker who feels disrespect from his superiors and disgust for the system. The difference here is that he is older, weary, and cannot let go of the past. “In the Line of Fire” also marks the last movie which Eastwood starred in that he did not direct until 2012’s “Trouble with the Curve.”

A recurring line through the film sees Leary asking Frank, “Are you willing to take a bullet, or is life too precious?” This is a question Frank may not quite have an answer for, and that’s the one thing that has bothered him for 30 years about his failure in Dallas. Clashing with Leary has provided Frank with a chance for redemption, to silence the demons once and for all. Likewise, the movie itself seems to have been made by and for Americans still deeply affected by Kennedy’s death. Nothing will ever truly heal the wounds created by the loss of a President. Not even time itself can do that, let alone a mostly forgettable movie. But, if even a small amount of relief can be gained from the escape provided by the cinema, achieved vicariously through the hero’s need to atone, then “In the Line of Fire” cannot be said to be devoid of merit. It’s the rewatchability factor that this one lacks.


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