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In the Line of Fire (1993)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/1/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/26/2008

What is your definition of a political thriller? Is it a film which features an exciting story that also has a political slant or message? It would seem that films such as In the Valley of Elah or A Few Good Men, both of which depict murder investigations while delivering a definite political point of view, would fall into this category. But, can "political thriller" also refer to a suspense film which simply takes place in the world of politics and has no real agenda? That's the case with the Clint Eastwood vehicle In the Line of Fire.

Eastwood stars in In the Line of Fire as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan. As the film opens, Horrigan is busting counterfeiters with his new partner, Al D'Andrea (Dylan McDermott). (One of the counterfeiters is played by Tobin Bell. Jigsaw used to make funny money?) Frank is asked to follow-up on a call about a suspicious man and finds an apartment which is littered with articles about presidential assassinations. When the agents come to the apartment to arrest the occupant, all that they find is a picture of Frank with President Kennedy's motorcade. Frank is the only active Agent who was in Dallas the day of the Kennedy's assassination and the mysterious man seems to know this. As if this isn't disturbing enough, the man, who calls himself "Booth" (John Malkovich) contacts Frank and basically dares Frank to stop him from killing the President. Frank is re-assigned as one of the President's bodyguards, and finds himself working with Agent Lily Raines (Rene Russo). (As an old-school agent, Frank is weary of working with females.) As election day draws nearer, and the President makes more and more public appearances, Frank and his colleagues race to learn Booth's real identity and stop the assassination.

At the time of its release, In the Line of Fire was very sleek and modern, and yet it's one of those old-fashioned films which is best described as "solid". While it would be inaccurate to call the film predictable, Writer Jeff Maguire and Director Wolfgang Petersen have created a very by-the-numbers thriller which almost falls into a Hitchcockian mode. The film introduces us to the main characters (this is one of those films which doesn't show the villains face at first -- as if it's going to mean anything to us), designates the good guys and the bad guys, and goes from there. The film doesn't do anything flashy (although I'm sure that some of the computer graphics were cutting edge for 1993) -- it simply concentrates on telling a good story.

Now, if some of that sounded negative, it wasn't meant to be. In the Line of Fire is an example of a film which plays it straight. It's not interested in trickery. The story serves as a backbone for the film and it's up to the cast to bring it all home. Eastwood is great as Frank, in a role which is quite self-referential. Frank, like Eastwood, is a former tough guy who's simply trying to make it in today's world. It's great to see Dirty Harry yelling at Booth one minute, ("You've got a rendezvous with my ass!" is his best line) and being vulnerable the next. Of course, John Malkovich is great as the assassin who is all about controlled rage. You know, even if Malkovich wasn't playing the killer, I would still suspect him. The movie also features small roles by Gary Cole and John Mahoney an d some great cameos from the likes of John Heard and Steve Railsback. (Seeing the film today, the best second-tier performance comes from former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, who plays the White House Chief of Staff.) This skilled cast really add something to the film, as the story unfolds. The script isn't full of surprising twists, but the story's momentum rarely lingers.

My only complaint about In the Line of Fire, and it's a big one, is the relationship between Frank and Lily. Was that really necessary? Who wanted to see that? I felt that the whole idea was very cliched and seriously mired the film's energy.

Fifteen years after its initial release, In the Line of Fire is still a satisfying film. The acting is top-notch and the story is just as intriguing today as it was then. (Actually, In the Line of Fire is one of those scary films where the villain has a plan which is so ingenious that there's a fear that someone may try to copy it in real life.) The film deftly mixes drama and action, but leaves out the politics. Despite the fact that the movie is about an attempt on the President's life, there are no mentions of party affiliations or platforms in the film. Even Booth's motivations are personal. So, if you like your political thrillers to shy away from politics, then In the Line of Fire is for you.

In the Line of Fire scans the crowd for weirdos on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. I've been disappointed with the Blu-ray transfers of some older films and I was beginning to think that the format only lent itself to newer movies, but In the Line of Fire has changed my mind. The image here is remarkably sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The picture must be described as "crisp" and the image has a very nice depth and a lot of detail. Both day and night scenes look fantastic. The colors are very realistic and the image is never overly bright. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The film features several political rallies and these provide a nice amount of stereo and surround effects. The crowd noise fills the front and rear channels, adding to the reality of the film, and the stereo separation is quite good. The action scenes provide an impressive amount of bass, which is never overwhelming.

The In the Line of Fire Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Wolfgang Petersen. This talk was taken from the Special Edition DVD which was released several years ago, and also features DVD producer Jay Kenny. Petersen discusses the film's production, while Kenny asks questions to keep things moving along. Petersen has a great deal of praise for Eastwood and never gets too technical. "Showtime Special: Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service" (20 minutes) is a mini-documentary hosted by Bob Snow, former Secret Service agent and technical advisor on In the Line of Fire. This piece contains clips from the movie and comments from the actors, and it eventually discusses the training and roles of real Secret Service agents. "The Ultimate Sacrifice" (22 minutes) is essentially a "making of" which explores the genesis of the script, the roles of Secret Service agents, and the reality of the material -- we get this through comments from real agents and the actors and crew. "How'd They Do That?" (5 minutes) shows how Eastwood was digitally placed into scenes of real political rallies. It also explains how photos were digitally manipulated and how Air Force One was rendered. "Catching the Counterfeiters" (5 minutes) explains how the Secret Service was created to catch counterfeiters and then shows how technology has assisted in this process. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. The scenes are incidental, but the first, which shows Frank playing the piano and being approached by a woman, is interesting.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long