In the Line of Fire

Had this been released during Clint Eastwood’s late-’80s slump (The Dead Pool, Pink Cadillac), it might have looked more like the top-notch thriller the critics said it was. Coming as it did after Unforgiven — a tough act for any film to follow — it just seemed like a good movie, nothing spectacular. Realizing that vulnerability was “in,” Clint plays yet another aging tough guy tormented by his past — this time Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service agent who thinks he could have prevented JFK from getting whacked. (This has a bit more weight than Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard beating himself up over not taking the bullet for Ronald Reagan.) Enter Mitch Leary (John Malkovich in a classic performance), a nut who harasses Frank on the phone, taunting him with his plans to assassinate the current president. The plot is your basic Batman set-up — wise-ass villain vs. insecure hero — and it genuflects to all the Hollywood thriller conventions: when Frank’s young family-man partner (Dylan McDermott) appears, people in the audience call out “Lunch meat!” There’s also the much younger love interest Rene Russo (couldn’t Clint get involved with a woman slightly closer to his own age?), and while nothing is made explicit, Mitch does appear to be gay — continuing the motif that has marred quite a few Clint movies over the years, the Evil Fag. Still, this was a generally smart, adult thriller in the summer of Super Mario Bros. and Son-in-Law. Music by Ennio Morricone, who hadn’t scored a Clint film since their days with Sergio Leone. Director Wolfgang Petersen’s next was Outbreak, also with Rene Russo.

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