In the Line of Fire Movie Review
Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, the kind of man who comes home after a long day of booby-trapping money counterfeiters and wants nothing else than to get out of his suit, drink a good glass of bourbon, and listen to Kind of Blue. Just as he's settling into one of these comfortable slumps, he receives a phone call from a man who calls himself Booth (John Malkovich). Sober and staid, Booth tells Frank that he's going to kill the president. The fact that Booth's deserted apartment is found with a singular photo of Frank when he was an agent under JFK underlines Horrigan's conviction.
Petersen is playing cat-and-mouse, but he's doing so on a grand scale. It's Dirty Harry goes to Washington. Scribe Jeff Maguire saddles the film with a light romance between Horrigan and a hot-to-trot female agent, ably played by Rene Russo, plus a bureaucratic maelstrom cooked up by a presidential advisor (Fred Dalton Thomas) and the postulant agent-in-charge for the Secret Service (Gary Cole). The wolf-and-cub play between Frank and his young partner (Dylan McDermott) comes off as custard: cute enough but ultimately benign.
No matter the distractions and sleight of hand, the fireworks are all Eastwood and Malkovich. Whereas Eastwood is all accountable, hard-assed efficiency, Malkovich is a study in brooding frenzy. It takes Horrigan a while to pinpoint Booth's soft spots, but the villain has the agent's number from the get-go and has a devil of a time spinning him. It's a devil of a time to watch as well. When Frank does finally break Booth's calm seal, there's an outburst, but we see nothing of it again until the visceral, if not preposterous, ending. The consistent professional, Malkovich segues back into cool menace without a moment of hesitation.
Petersen's commendable pacing throws down the gauntlet and Malkovich and Eastwood savor the thrusts and parries, perhaps even a little too much. Nothing else in the picture has the hope of standing up to these throttling psychological battles, all the more impressive since they are mostly done on the phone. The aged friendship between Horrigan and the Director of the Secret Service (John Mahoney) has a conversant strum to it, but soon enough, it becomes a simple procedure vs. experience argument between two ragged old-timers. That's the point: Petersen wants us to think that Frank has a life beyond topping Booth and tries to prove it with these slight moments of placid social life, but nobody else matters. Frank and Booth were made for each other.