In the Line of Fire (Special Edition) Review
I have to make a confession: I've never been all that much of a Clint Eastwood fan. I've got nothing against him, and think many of his films are terrific (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of my all-time favourites), but his presence in a film has never made me feel any sort of urge to see it. I don't know why this is the case, but it is so. Anyway, this is one of the exceptions to the rule, a terrific thriller that, while hardly breaking no ground, sets up an interesting and surprisingly plot and fulfils all its promises.
The plot is a good one. Frank Horrigan (Eastwood), the agent who failed to stop JFK being assassinated, is guarding the latest President, along with a fellow agent (Russo), when a deadly assassin, Frank Booth (Malkovich) begins to intimate that he has designs on this president. 'An electrifying battle of wits',as the publicity would have it, ensues, which is genuinely fascinating to watch, given the surprisingly unpredictable twists and turns of the plot, with a heart-stoppingly exciting climax.
Eastwood is very good here, in a role that requires him to be both macho and sensitive, as well as haunted, and he manages to make Horrigan a vulnerable man, as well as a Secret Service agent; it's never completely certain whether he or Booth is going to win. Russo is also pretty good in a more limited part as Horrigan's love interest. However, as usual in this sort of fil, the villain steals the show, and Malkovich, in an Oscar-nominated performance that should have won, is magnificent. There's a superb scene midway through the film where Horrigan is placed in a moral dilemma which Booth exploits, and Malkovich manages to convey both a sense of purpose and intelligence to his 'psychopath', as his actions acquire an edge of rationality even as they become more and more apparently evil.
If the film was to be criticised, it could be said that it's not desperately original, with Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal the obvious source for much of the film's action. Likewise, there are too many stereotypical supporting characters, such as 'the boss who is always wrong' (Gary Cole), and 'the wisecracking yet shrewd old guy' (John Mahoney). If you were really quibbling, you could also argue that the final few scenes lack the punch of the rest of the film. However, this is grade-A Hollywood filmmaking, and Petersen superbly orchestrates the tension and action, with some scenes almost worthy of Hitchcock in their sly mix of humour and violence. Highly recommended.
A nice, although not outstanding, effort from Columbia here; colours are sharp and bright, and the transfer is mostly clear, but there is some slight but irritating print damage, as well as occasional grain in some of the darker scenes. It's rather as if they hadn't bothered to give this any kind of restoration, which is borderline necessary for a film of this age, given the deterioration of film stock. Still, there's nothing actually wrong with it as it stands, and it's more than watchable.
The 5.1 mix is mostly quiet and restrained, although there are a few moments of action where it uses the surrounds more, while Ennio Morriconne's superb score is showcased rather well at its most dramatic moments. As with the picture, nothing spectacular, but a more than adequate job.
Roughly 90% of 'special edition' DVDs come with three components: a director's commentary, deleted scenes and making-of featurettes. Here, we have all three. Petersen's commentary is pretty good, although very technical in nature, and his German accent makes it a little hard going occasionally. However, for a retrospective look back at the film, it's one of the better commentaries I've listened to. The deleted scenes are tiny snippets, with little lasting interest, and are easy to see why they were cut out; however, their inclusion is always welcome.
However, the 'featurettes' are a far better than usual selection. The first one is a 25-minute look back at the film's production; while it might have benefitted from new interviews with Eastwood and Russo, it's still a pretty sound effort, with some interesting revelatins about the script. The second one is a short but fascinating look at the special effects used in the film, which is a possible disappointment for those viewers (like me, incidentally) who were fooled into thinking that the extras were real people, rather than CGI. The other two featurettes are both broadly similar; the first is a look at the real Secret Service, the second is a brief look at the problems of counterfeiting. Both are interesting, illuminating and several notches above the usual fluff found on these discs. Trailers and the usual biographies round out a good selection of extras.
A good film is presented on a good disc. It's recommended in both departments, as, although there's nothing groundbreaking here, there's a great deal of interesting extra material to contemplate an intelligent and exciting thriller.