A wise man once said that when it comes to movies, if you're fortunate enough to be as successful for as long as Clint Eastwood has been, you get the opportunity to reflect on your life cinematically, which is to say that you have the chance to provide closure to your career in a rather unique way. Eastwood cut his teeth on action films for decades. The guy was Dirty Harry for pete's sake! He managed to close the door on his work in Western films with the modern classic Unforgiven, about an aging gunfighter, and In the Line of Fire allowed him to achieve the similar effect here in the action genre.
Written by Jeff Maguire (Gridiron Gang) and directed by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm), Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, an aging Secret Service Agent who is notable for his role in history, as he was on President Kennedy's detail during that fateful day in November 1963. With his partner Al (Dylan McDermott, Runaway Jury), they manage to discover a plan to assassinate the President, brought to life by a dangerous man named Mitch Leary (John Malkovich, Beowulf). Mitch is aware of Frank's history and attempts to use those vulnerabilities to his advantage, while Frank employs the assistance of other agents in the Agency, such as Agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo, Outbreak) and their boss, the Agency Director (John Mahoney, Say Anything). The dueling minds of Frank and Mitch go back and forth, culminating in a final battle in California during a key event that the President attends.
Watching the film again after so many years, I was thinking about the impact that Eastwood's performance had on me at the time. He was too macho to share his vulnerability or even his mortality in past films of his that I'd seen, so this was a nice surprise. This was a man who was sure of himself and acknowledged his weaknesses while being confident of his strengths. He was very self-aware that he was a man closer to the end of his life than the beginning of it and playing it as such gave him a sense of humor and style with Horrigan that others might not have seen on a grander stage, and it was pleasant to see. On the antagonist's side of things, Malkovich was a curious choice at the time to play the role of Leary, but in his limited screen time, he envelops the role, effectively portraying it as one of a man who was immersed in covert government activity for years and is now angry at the way he was treated, and finds a kindred spirit of sorts in Frank, as their phone conversations seem to play out. Their cat and mouse game is the best part of the film.
Now, In the Line of Fire is far from a perfect film; watching Eastwood and Malkovich on a foot chase borders on comic and some of the dialogue still reminds you that we are watching a Wolfgang Petersen film after all ("The proof could be a dead President!"), but the efforts that a viewer has to go through to suspend disbelief aren't too mammoth, and to an extent, this is quite a good "adult" action film in that regard. Eastwood has appeared in other thrillers since this one, but he was 63 when In the Line of Fire was released, and this is a more than capable finale to his action film resume.
The Blu-ray Disc:
In the Line of Fire is given an AVC MPEG-4 encode to go along with this 2.40:1 presentation. It was a little fun to look at the feature in high definition; a lot of scenes are fairly crisp and clean visually, to the point where you can point out fine detail from characters' facial features. That type of detail isn't consistent through the whole film though, and the level of background image depth isn't quite up to snuff either. You can certainly make out all the blue-screen effects that Petersen employed in the film now, but some of those images appear to have some crushed blacks. Still, the stage shots look pretty good overall despite a lot of wavering in quality.
The Dolby TrueHD track isn't the best presentation in the world. A thriller film like this is many dialogue-driven, and the dialogue is sometimes soft-sounding, so some receiver adjustments have to be made. It's not like the soundtrack is too immersive either; panning and directional activity isn't too active, if at all, and when it comes to subwoofer engagement, mine woke up for one scene near the end of the film and that's it. But hey, TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks in French and Portuguese are included, so Sony recognizes many different cultures, right? Not having the standard definition version, this is a probably upgrade from the technical side of things.
From a supplements point of view, everything from the 2001 Special Edition release on standard definition appears to be brought over to this disc. Petersen provides a commentary to the film which isn't too bad. He discusses how Eastwood essentially brought him onto the project, along with how some of the other cast members came aboard. Working with Clint is discussed, but Petersen also mentions scenes where the cast shone as well. He discusses working with computer graphics and points out what was real or animated in a particular scene, and his thoughts on the Secret Service are shared too. He has an interesting story on how Maguire's script was picked up that's also fun to listen to and overall, Petersen's track helps complement the film experience. A Showtime special on the Secret Service is included (19:57), hosted by Bob Snow, a retired Secret Service Agent who served as the film's technical advisor. There are interviews with cast members and real agents, along with some footage at the Agency's training grounds, showing exercises that are conducted. Some Presidential assassinations are even touched on. It's a decent piece, but probably could have been better. "The Ultimate Sacrifice" (22:14) covers much of the same ground, with interviews with some more of the cast, and how Maguire's script made the proverbial rounds. There is more training footage and more agent interviews, and Snow, who doesn't host this piece, talks about some real-world perspective. Another piece that's OK, but could have been better. Two smaller featurettes follow, the first being "How'd They Do That?" (4:54), which examines the computer effects in the film. "Catching the Counterfeiters" (5:29) looks at the original mission of the Agency, and shows (kind of) how to counterfeit currency, and illustrates the efforts to prevent counterfeiting. Why this footage couldn't have been included in the longer pieces I don't know, this stuff was cool. Five deleted scenes are next (5:01), but they're pretty boring and don't add anything to the final cut. Previews for Vantage Point and the first season of Damages round the disc out.
In the Line of Fire falls into the category of films that, when it airs on television every so often, I'll usually put down the remote for. The acting complements the story, and the story is engrossing and subtly pulls you into its web. The technical qualities are enough to recommend double-dipping for those who feel compelled to do so and on its own, is definitely worth renting to see again, but under the glare of high definition.