Many films and television shows capitalized on the mystique of the JFK assassination during the 30th anniversary of the event in 1993. I recall sitting through a cable movie with Robert Hayes as a time traveler attempting to keep his brother out of Vietnam by saving JFK and an episode of Quantum Leap in which the hero, Sam Beckett, kept bouncing through the life of Lee Harvey Oswald.
The assassination is an historical event I can look at without a hint of the baby boomer sentimentality which demands a massive conspiracy be behind the killing of JFK because it just shatters people’s world that a lone nut can end the life of the leader of the free world. I am definitely of the lone gunman school of thought and frankly do not find that particularly interesting, either.
So I get bored easily with the JFK obsession in general, but particularly when it is immersed in conspiracy theories. It takes a lot for me to not zone out with a story relating to the assassination. Fortunately, I gave In the Line of Fire a shot anyway. The movie fires on all cylinders.
Like many of the movies I already have plans to review, I first saw In the Line of Fire as a video release before we put it to rent at my family’s video store sixteen years ago. I liked it, but was not as hip to it as I am now that I have seen it a couple more times in the interim. Back then, I paid little attention to Clint Eastwood’s Frak Horrigan’s long held guilt over his failure to save JFK--ho, hum. Not another JFK bit!--and focused on John Malkovich’s portrayal of the psychotic ex-CIA assassin Mitch Leary, which I negatively and naively found wanting in comparison with Hannibal Lector.
What a difference many years and a few gray hairs makes.
In the Line of Fire is an action movie with a brain. The plot sounds fairly routine--Secret Service agents try to stop a disgraced CIA operative from killing the new president--there is a lot going on to hold an intelligent viewer’s attention. While it does have the prerequisite gunfights and various other action sequences, none o them feel gratuitous. There is a reason for all of them, usually to further the cat and mouse game between Horrigan and Leary. One of the most pivotal action sequences comes on a rooftop chase in which Leary both kills Horrigan’s partner and saves him from falling. By his actions, Leary has not only kept the game going, but made it even more personal for Horrigan.
I will not discuss the intricate web of clues which help Horigan, but suffice to say the investigation plays out with a logical narrative flow that features some truly disturbing psychological elements. Leary has been turned subhuman by his former spymasters, yet has the wherewithal to stay one step ahead of the Secret Service while still taking the time to hold some salt into Horrigan’s thirty year old, guilt ridden wound.
One other point I appreciate is that Eastwood acts his age. He is not the sixty year old Rocky Balboa stepping back into the ring with a guy thirty years his junior and coming out in one piece. Horrigan is grizzled, tired, and well passed retirement age. He can barely keep and even gets beaten up by Leary in the climax. But that is an aspect that kicks the film up a notch. Hoorigan’s need for redemption keeps him going against all odds. Leary know it, too. The story becomes as much about him keeping Horrigan down as it is about successfully killing the president.
In the Lie of Fire also features Rene Russo as another Secret Service agent, Lily Raines. Her role comes at a time when she is paying the love interest of various forty-something leading men like Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson. I will admit the May-December romance between Raines an Horrigan is forced, but it is a small point. She is just as tough and agent as the rest of them, so she is not in the picture solely for sex appeal. She has plenty of that, mind you, but it is not simply window dressing.
I like In the Line of Fire. As far as action movies go, it is right up there with the original Lethal Weapon in terms of intelligence and entertainment value. I highly recommend it. The only thing that keeps me from giving the movie a higher rating is the implausibility of the romance between Raines and Horrigan and the fact Horrigan is well passed mandatory retirement age for field agents in the Secret Service. The movie is good enough for that not ruin it for me.
Rating: **** (out of 5)