In the Line of Fire (1993)
In the Line of Fire (1993)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.

Release Date: July 9th, 1993 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Wolfgang Petersen Actors: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, John Mahoney, Fred Dalton Thompson




n the Line of Fire” opens like most Clint Eastwood films do – with the flashy introduction of a hardened, no-nonsense tough guy, serving the law in the most unorthodox of ways. What follows is a no-holds-barred thriller wrought with action, suspense, chills, masterly acting, unmistakably macho dialogue, nicely placed comedy elements, and one of those rare, unforgettable villains. This is easily director Wolfgang Petersen’s finest American project, demonstrating flawless pacing, a perceptive handling of Jeff Maguire’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, and a keen awareness of genre pitfalls – opting for character development and intelligent scripting over distractive stunts and violence and explosions (though certainly these elements make purposeful appearances).

Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is getting too old for the roughneck job of constantly putting his life on the line. His young partner Al D’Andrea (Dylan McDermott) can’t seem to adjust to his new position either, especially during a trying moment at a counterfeiter bust (look for a very recognizable Tobin Bell in a brief role). Aside from their mismatched partnership, Frank is perpetually haunted by his former role as a point man for Kennedy, running alongside his car during the infamous, iconic assassination.

But Horrigan’s routines are short-lived when he starts to receive calls from a cloak-and-dagger man calling himself Booth (John Malkovich), who ensures Frank that he plans to assassinate the President of the United States (Jim Curley). Pleading to rejoin the elite team of agents who personally protect the Chief Executive, Frank toils with the White House Chief of Staff and the Presidential Detail agent – in traditional “Dirty Harry” fashion. He also flirts with Agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) and negotiates through Secret Service Director Sam Campagna (John Mahoney), all while Booth offers up clues to his murderous plot during careful scrutinizing of the President’s campaign trail. Staying only a few steps behind the monstrous madman, Frank must piece together Booth’s background and thwart the ultimate attack before a series of professional and political foul-ups get him permanently removed from duty.

The conversations between nearly all of the characters are remarkably acute, switching between comedic, dramatic, romantic, and frighteningly serious. Playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, Horrigan and Booth continually trade cynical and fierce exchanges over the phone – in a highly entertaining manner reminiscent of Starling and Lecter, which would be similarly utilized the following year in “Speed” between Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper. Revisiting the Harry Callahan lack-of-respect-for-authority attitude Eastwood perfected in “Dirty Harry,” Frank mouths off to his superiors and woos Lilly without missing a beat.

John Malkovich plays one of the screen’s most memorable and often underrated villains (though, at the time, he was deservingly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar). He effortlessly makes use of a monotonic, calm, and supremely unnerving voice that alternates between soft-spoken riddles and inflamed curses, like a cross between the aforementioned Hannibal Lecter, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” Leatherface (in his unpredictability and inhumanness), and Kevin Spacey’s John Doe from “Seven” (premiering two years later) – all brilliantly visual psychopaths embellished by extreme close-ups of lifeless eyes, twisted lips, and other alien-like qualities, as if to reiterate a grand rift in human connection and an inability to duplicate convincing emotion. This standout antagonist is just one unbeatable component in this immensely satisfying thriller, which further boasts a mesmerizing game of wits and will, a battle between good and evil, the contention of duty and sacrifice, and the always pulse-pounding rush of the manhunt.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10