I had a hell of a time deciding which Eastwood film to cover for this series. He made lots of films between 1975 and 1994 but to be honest, not too many of them are ones about which I have a hell of a lot to say. Coming hot on the heels of his Oscar winning triumph with Unforgiven (unless I'm mistaken, I did a victory lap around the living room when that happened), Clint was back with a new thriller. In the Line of Fire stars Clint as Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, a cranky veteran agent haunted by his failure to save JFK in Dallas.
He gets a shot at redemption thirty years later when deranged former CIA killer Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) threatens the current president, specifically contacting Frank and more or less daring him to stop his assassination attempt.
Frank is more than up to the challenge (it is Clint after all) but to his credit, Eastwood does show his age in places. It's a great, white-knuckle thriller from director Wolfgang Petersen with a top notch cast, good script, a typically great score from Ennio Morricone and some classic Eastwood moments. Let's take a closer look.
- First off, I absolutely love the teaser trailer for the movie. Ominous, intriguing and finally triumphant as Clint is seen slamming a phone down, grabbing a gun and growling a line at the camera. A really great action film trailer should, ideally, get you to stand up and cheer when it's done. This one does.
- The film starts off with a classic Eastwood scenario: Frank is breaking in a new partner (played by Dylan McDermott, the only time I've ever really liked him in a film or TV show) and he ends up shooting a few bad guys. In the case of this film, he's busting a counterfeit money operation run by character actor Tobin Bell. Funnily enough, Bell was a bad guy in another summer 1993 release, The tom Cruise flick The Firm. Shame he wasn't the one-armed man in The Fugitive, he could have had a trifecta!
- The supporting cast is quite good. Malkovich is a great villain, Rene Russo is fun as Lily, Frank's field chief and eventual love interest and Fred Dalton Thompson and John Mahoney have some good moments as the jerky White House Chief of Staff and Frank's boss respectively.
- The film plays around with revealing Malkovich quite nicely. He's usually in some sort of disguise and most of his scenes with Frank are done over the phone. This was really the heyday of the reliable "Good guy and bad guy taunt each other over the phone/radio" trope.
- As good as Malkovich is (he didn't get an Oscar nomination for nothing), the real standout is Eastwood himself. He does all the usual tough guy stuff you expect from him but we also get to see him be a little more human than usual. He's haunted by the past which Clint ably underplays and at one point he gets a nicely emotional speech as he recounts what happened in 1963. It's a really, really good performance from the man.
- The majority of the film is a nicely low key, yet still thrilling cat and mouse game between Frank and Leary. The phone calls are well played and Malkovich actually underplays for the most part until the last one where he begins to lose it. The finale in the elevator after Frank takes a bullet for the president is also good.
- There are probably two or three too many scenes of Frank being doubted by various characters but honestly, that has always been par for the course when it comes to Eastwood films and at least he usually comes up with one or two funny lines.