Sunday 11 February 2007

In the Line of Fire (1993) Wolfgang Petersen

Clint Eastwood got more and more powerful as an actor as time went by, and this one came right after Unforgiven, which won him an Oscar for Best Director and a nomination for Best Actor. He plays a Secret Service agent called Frank Horrigan who has a lot of experience behind him. He had Kennedy's ear, apparently, but didn't have much luck saving him on the grassy knoll. Now he has another chance to save a president, because there's some nutjob getting ready to have a go at the new one, thirty years later. He calls himself Booth, for obvious reasons, and takes a personal interest in needling Horrigan while he prepares for his day in the sun.

Booth isn't his real name, of course. He's Mitch Leary, ably portrayed by a freaky John Malkovich, who works his way through a whole slew of disguises and who took the job, so unlike his usual roles, just so that he could work with Eastwood. The character did precisely the same, as he has no real political reason to assassinate the top man in the States. He's just a former CIA assassin keen to play the game with the one agent left with a dead president on his conscience. Malkovich is as great as you'd expect, juggling different images and mixing sheer talent at his job with a notable lack of passion.

Also prominent is Rene Russo as a female agent called Lilly Raines. She's just a little young to be working a romantic angle with Eastwood, but then most actresses around 63 years of age haven't tended to age quite so well as he has. Russo was only 39. What surprised me most about Russo is how few films she's made, given that I seem to have seen so many of them. She's made only twenty films in almost as many years, and always seems to make her mark in them. That's less evident here, as the whole thing is about the game between Leary and Horrigan, but she certainly has nothing to be ashamed of.

The other star is the story. As much as this is Hollywood product, and thus hardly realistic, this plays rather believably for its genre. The dialogue feels right, though about half the profanity seems forced and unrealistic. There's a tense rooftop case that ends in a bizarre WWE style ending: when there are two people with the opportunity to kill the other, naturally it's a third that gets it. Even the technical side rings true, with the many extreme preparations needed to clear a hotel room for a presidential visit fascinating. Definitely a good entry in the secret service thriller category, though I'm not sure the three Oscar nominations were really justified.

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