“In The Line Of Fire” stands apart from other more mindless thrillers because it focuses on a psychological chess game between the hero cop and the would be assassin instead of pummelling us with pointless chases and violence. That’s not to say that this movie does not have action. It has quite a bit. But because I was so invested in the characters I found myself on the edge of my seat. This is what great thrillers are all about.
Clint Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, an aging Secret Service agent who has protected many presidents. He is haunted by the death of JFK as he was on his detail when he was killed. John Malkovich plays Mitch Leary, a psychotic killer who is bent on assassinating the president. Leary uses the JFK experience as a way of mentally toying with Horrigan. Each man lives with a set of values and ideals which sets up a series of phone conversations between the two that are some of the most compelling I have ever seen in a genre movie like this.
The director is Wolfgang Petersen, who ratchets up the tension and never lets up. He directs with ease through a complex screenplay written by Jeff Maguire. Together they create a compelling movie from the ground up starting with great characters.
Malkovich and Eastwood are a great match. Nobody can play smoothly insane like Malkovich. He can switch from eerily charming to ruthless killer at the drop of a hat. There is great tension in a scene where he shows off his ceramic gun to a couple of hunters before killing them with it.
Eastwood brings a bit of his Harry Callahan to his role here. He has no problem telling everyone straight with a bit of humour. He seems to relish in pissing off his superiors and co-workers. But his big personality does not dominate the picture. He is all business when it comes to doing his job. There are a few cliches that come with this genre such as everyone else not listening to his warnings and even being kicked off the case for going overboard when it turns out he is right. But that comes with the territory.
It is odd that we don’t get movies like this anymore. Most thrillers are dumbed down these days. Studios seem to think that we won’t pay attention unless there is non stop action and visual effects.