Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: In the Line of Fire: SE (1993)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - An assassin on the loose. A president in danger. Only one man stands between them...

A gripping, gut-wrenching thriller that delivers suspense in almost unbearable doses, In The Line Of Fire showcases Clint Eastwood at his finest.

In a performance that won universal acclaim, Clint Eastwood stars as Frank Horrigan, a veteran Secret Service agent haunted by his failure to protect JFK from assassination. Thirty years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself when a brilliant psychopath threatens to kill the current president, and take Horrigan with him. Taunting him by phone and tantalizing him with clues, the assassin (John Malkovich) lures Horrigan into an electrifying battle of wits and will that only one man can solve.

Co-starring Rene Russo as Horrigan's risk-taking Field Chief, In The Line Of Fire is a high wire balancing act of searing suspense, explosive action and surprising romance. Quite simply, "one of the finest thrillers you'll ever see." (Roy Leonard, WGN-TV)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Cast: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, John Mahoney
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor-John Malkovich; Best Film Editing. 1994.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround 2.0, French, Spanish & Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0; subtitles English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; Rated R; 127 min.; $24.95; street date 2/27/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director Wolfgang Petersen; Deleted Scenes; “The Ultimate Sacrifice” Documentary; “Behind the Scenes With the Secret Service” Featurette; “Catching the Counterfeiters” Featurette; Theatrical Trailers; TV Spots; Talent Files.
Purchase: DVD | Wolfgang Petersen Collection

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/B+

Over the years, Wolfgang Petersen has established himself as one of the most consistent filmmakers on the scene. When you see him listed as a movie’s director, you’re virtually assured that the result will be a professional, fairly-compelling action flick. Unfortunately, you never get more than that. Although Petersen has produced very few clunkers, he also has yet to make anything that rises above the level of “decent but unspectacular”.

1993's In the Line of Fire exemplifies Petersen's strengths and weaknesses. It's an exciting, fairly compelling movie. Seemingly, all the pieces are in place for this film to have been a really terrific experience. You have a great veteran cast, headlined by Clint Eastwood, fine production values, and a very provocative plot. So why do I end up thinking that the movie is only pretty good at best?

I think the responsibility lies with Petersen. While he stages action sequences effectively, there seems to be a lack of passion, a kind of mechanical aspect to his direction that keeps these scenes from taking on any kind of real life of their own. Don't get me wrong - the action bits work well and they deliver some excitement. I just always feel vaguely unsatisfied after a Petersen movie, in a “total being less than the sum of its parts” way.

Maybe I fault Petersen for the vague dryness of In the Line of Fire because I can't find anyone else to blame. The script by Jeff Maguire certainly provides a very compelling twist on what could have been a fairly ordinary "stop the assassin" film. By making Eastwood's Frank Horrigan a Secret Service agent who was on duty when Kennedy got shot, the story adds an element of intrigue and emotional complexity that otherwise would not have existed. As such, we have a film in which the usual cat and mouse relationship between the pursuer and the pursuee exists, but we also get some psychological aspects because of Horrigan's problematic past.

I also like the fact that In the Line of Fire provides a nice portrayal of the difficulties faced by Secret Service agents. You have to protect the world's most powerful and famous person, someone whose job - especially during a campaign - requires him to be in very public places. I can't imagine what a nightmare all the logistics of that task must be, but the film clearly gives us some idea.

In the Line of Fire was the first film to use one aspect of Petersen's MO for the 1990s: a prominent cast headed by a tremendously famous and respected actor. We find Harrison Ford in Air Force One, Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak, and Eastwood here; that's many years of box office star power at work! For the record, Outbreak probably boasted the best cast; three Academy Award winning actors there (Hoffman, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding, though the last two didn't win theirs until after Outbreak) plus Morgan Freeman, who clearly should have won an Oscar by now. Neither of the other two movies include any cast members who won Academy Awards for acting (Eastwood got his for directing Unforgiven), although John Malkovich was nominated for his role here.

As far as the acting goes, well, Clint's Clint. Basically, he's almost completely beyond reproach in pretty much anything he does; the status of living legend will do that for you. That said, I thought he worked pretty effectively during In the Line of Fire. Certainly he knows how to play gruff and menacing, so that aspect of his performance isn't exactly a surprise. However, Eastwood also convincingly conveys the charm and magnetism of his character. In the end, Horrigan comes across as a real person much more clearly than do most of Eastwood's fairly one-dimensional characters; there's little about this performance that seems phony or contrived.

As mentioned earlier, John Malkovich received an Oscar nomination for his role as psycho assassin Mitch Leary (he lost to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive). Although Malkovich essentially just did his usually “spooky guy” thing, I think the nomination was justified. Malkovich does creepy better than almost anybody in the business, and In the Line of Fire finds him at his eerie best. It's much harder to judge any sort of realism in his performance than it was to view Eastwood's - after all, we don't come across deranged former CIA assassins every day - but Malkovich clearly does what was needed of him for the role; he makes Leary convincingly menacing, and does so with a style that seems unique to Malkovich. Largely, his and Eastwood's performances are what make In the Line of Fire a better than average thriller.

However, the movie remains not much better than average, and I still think it’s a modest disappointment considering all of the talent involved. While I enjoyed In the Line of Fire, it still leaves me vaguely unsatisfied.

The DVD:

In the Line of Fire appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This disc seemed to replicate the transfer found on the original 1997 DVD release of Fire, and that’s a good thing, since the old version provided a solid picture.

Sharpness looked consistently crisp and detailed. A smidgen of softness appeared in very wide shots, but otherwise there were no hazy images on display. As a whole, the film seemed well-defined and accurate. Jagged edges presented no concerns, but I did see light moiré effects from grates. Print flaws seemed almost non-existent. I witnessed a speckle or two, but that was it. Otherwise, the movie lacked any signs of defects.

Colors generally looked quite solid, especially in regard to the primary colors. As befits this kind of film, reds and blues seemed best represented, as they displayed nicely rich and vivid. At times some skin tones could seem slightly orange in nature, but this wasn’t a significant flaw, especially since it appeared to mainly affect Eastwood; other faces didn’t look nearly as “off” as his. Maybe this is a general issue related to aging action stars, since Harrison Ford’s face looked exceedingly ruddy during What Lies Beneath.

Whatever the case may be, the colors for In the Line of Fire largely seemed solid, as did black levels. Dark tones were consistently deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared nicely delineated. Low-light sequences were easily visible and never came across as excessively opaque. The image for In the Line of Fire falls short of true greatness, but it was quite positive nonetheless.

Also strong was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of the film. The mix came from the “early days” of digital theater audio; Dolby Digital had only hit screens a year earlier, and 1993 marked the debuts of both DTS and SDDS. The latter format was used for In the Line of Fire, and that original mix has been nicely adapted for 5.1 use here.

The soundfield started somewhat slowly but became more involving as the film progressed. The forward speakers displayed pretty good separation and created a nicely lively environment. Sounds moved acceptably clearly between channels and the entire picture seemed fairly accurate. The rears kicked in able reinforcement of the front imagery and added solid atmosphere of their own. Split-surround usage wasn’t frequent but when it did appear, it seemed well-utilized, such as when motorcades zoom past us.

Audio quality largely appeared good. The film featured some obviously-looped dialogue on a number of occasions, but speech usually sounded relatively natural and distinct, with just a few signs of edginess. I heard no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and realistic, with no distortion on display, and they seemed fairly rich and deep. Music came across as nicely bright and dynamic. The mix didn’t present any tremendous bass, but the low end seemed acceptably clean and tight. The soundtrack showed some age, but it still worked well nonetheless.

The original DVD release of In the Line of Fire included absolutely no supplements, not even a trailer. For the new version, Columbia-Tristar (CTS) have significantly improved upon that situation with a nice little special edition.

First we find a surprisingly good audio commentary from director Wolfgang Petersen. As was the case for his track on The Perfect Storm, Petersen was joined by DVD producer J.M. Kinny, who adds a little information but generally functions as moderator/interviewer during this semi-screen specific track; at times Petersen addresses the on-screen action, but much of his talk goes off onto other issues.

I’ve heard Petersen’s remarks for Das Boot, Air Force One, and The Perfect Storm and found them to be decent but occasionally a little on the dull side. In many ways, this commentary resembles those others, especially during the not-too-scintillating first third or so, but it’s probably the best of the bunch.

Apparently recorded during the process for TPS, Petersen sometimes tends to fall back on his favorite subjects: detailed technical information and praising participants. However, much of the time he gets into more compelling notes about the film such as tidbits gained from research for the movie and also some of the methods used to create certain scenes. Most interesting are his statements about the ways the actors interacted, especially when he talks about the techniques used to get the best out of Eastwood. Petersen also provides a lot of information about his general filmmaking theories, all of which were quite stimulating to hear. Overall, I thought this was a fairly compelling commentary that I enjoyed more than I expected; it’s a fairly typical piece from Petersen, but it’s still my favorite of his tracks.

Next up are a slew of video programs. In the “Deleted Scenes” area, we find five snippets that didn’t make the final film. Each of these lasts between 25 seconds and 135 seconds for a total of four and a half minutes of material. None of these are especially memorable, but I was happy to have a look at them nonetheless.

Four mini-documentaries appear as well. First is a new program called “The Ultimate Sacrifice”. Produced by J.M. Kinny, this show offers a new look back at the movie. Through shots from the set, clips from the film, and both archival and recent interviews with many participants, this 22-minute and 10-second feature gave us a nice look at the making of Line. It combines discussions of the film itself with material about the Secret Service that made it a solid package. It probably should have been longer due to the dual emphasis, but I still thought it was a good piece.

More material about the Secret Service appears in “Catching the Counterfeiters”. This five minute and 25 second featurette looks at that group’s less well-known task, and it provides a view of their tactics and techniques. I liked this brief history of their attempts to battle counterfeiting, as it adds a nice touch of realism to the proceedings.

The next featurette looks at the ways special effects were used in Line. “How’d They Do That?” takes four minutes and 50 seconds to cover some different methods in which computer generated material helped keep down film costs and add a sense of reality to the film. It’s a good presentation that was sufficient for the topic.

Called “Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service”, the last video program was originally aired as one of those cable channel filler featurettes. The 19 minute and 55 second piece comes from Showtime, and it offers a decent though somewhat insubstantial look at the movie. Actually, this show seemed a little redundant since we have a similar piece in “The Ultimate Sacrifice”. “BTS” also combines movie factoids with material about the real Secret Service, and though the complement each other fairly well, the Showtime program is the weaker of the two. Still, despite some repetition and sense of déjà vu, I still thought the show merited a look.

A few more ordinary extras round out the new DVD. We get the standard extremely sketchy “Talent Files” found on most CTS discs. Here we find brief entries for Petersen, Eastwood, Rene Russo, and Malkovich. Inside the DVD’s booklet are short but good production notes; these repeat some information we learn elsewhere but they offer a nice overview nonetheless. In addition, we discover the cool “teaser” trailer for Line plus a whopping 10 TV spots created for the film. Full trailers for Air Force One and Das Boot finish the package.

At this point, I’ve seen In the Line of Fire probably five times, and although I have enjoyed it to a moderate degree on each viewing, I continue to find it mildly disappointing. The film presents few overt flaws, but it seems vaguely unsatisfying and never rises to the level of true excitement or invention; it’s a solid but pedestrian thriller. The DVD provides very good picture and sound plus a nice complement of extras.

As is always the case with reissues, I can’t provide one standard recommendation. For someone who currently owns no copy of In the Line of Fire, the special edition would be the one to get. It offers picture and sound quality that are identical to the old release, and it also includes some solid supplements. For those who already own the prior DVD, the issue revolves around your enjoyment of extras. The materials on the SE are very good, so if you like these kinds of programs, you’ll definitely want the new release. Otherwise, you should just stick with the old one; the new DVD features no improvements other than its extras.

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