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In the Line of Fire: Special Edition

Clint Eastwood has earned those lines on his face. The actor/director needs no introduction, first gaining fame on American television and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, and his career is now in its sixth decade. But fans of Clint also know that he hasn't always chosen the best projects for his inimitable screen-presence, and for every Dirty Harry there has been a Bronco Billy; for every Outlaw Josey Wales an Every Which Way You Can. Which is why Eastwood's transformation into one of Hollywood's elder statesmen in the '90s was so surprising — and so welcome. Perhaps it started with 1988's Bird, the lauded Charlie Parker biopic directed by Eastwood that seemed to have no connection to anything he had ever done before, including the fact that he directed but did not appear in the film. The 1990 White Hunter, Black Heart was another keynote, this time with Eastwood abandoning his urban-tough persona to portray a John Huston-like director in Africa. Whatever the reason, the "phone-it-in" projects started to disappear from Eastwood's schedule, as he abandoned "Dirty" Harry Callahan with 1988's The Dead Pool, schlock comedy with 1989's Pink Cadillac, and trite cop-buddy movies with 1990's The Rookie (co-starring Charlie Sheen). Everything for Eastwood changed in the '90s, as he focused completely on starring in (and often directing) films about middle-aged men, who may be placed in unusual circumstances, but still have to cope with all of the things that go along with being, well — old. Eastwood's revitalization was confirmed with the Oscar-winning Unforgiven in 1992, and since that time his films have been serious projects with both thematic and cinematic ambitions. Not all have been wildly successful with audiences or critics (A Perfect World, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but even these have their merits — and Sondra Locke is nowhere in sight. And among the best from what eventually could be known as Eastwood's "Mature Period" is 1993's In the Line of Fire, directed by the masterful Wolfgang Petersen. Eastwood stars in this well-crafted thriller as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan, the only active agent who was on John Kennedy's security detail in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963. Never fully recovering from a broken marriage and living modestly in a Washington D.C. apartment (he doesn't even own a car), Horrigan has spent his recent years undercover busting counterfeiters, which is one of the Service's less-glamorous duties. It is when a mysterious assassin known only as "Booth" (John Malkovich), aware of Horrigan's history, decides to clue the elder agent in on his plans to kill the current president that Horrigan requests re-assignment to protect the commander-in-chief. But the new assignment is one thing — solid information is harder to come by, as the meditative Booth only tells Frank (and the Secret Service eavesdroppers) what he wants them to know. Booth also knows how best to get into Horrigan's head, taunting him with the grave of another assassinated president, which sets Horrigan not only at odds with his clandestine antagonist, but much of the Secret Service as well.

*          *          *

In the Line of Fire was the first film to be made in co-operation with the U.S. Secret Service, a low-profile agency that conceals the identity of its many undercover agents and would rather the public didn't get too much of a glimpse of their inner workings. But the producers convinced the Secret Service brass to have technical advisors on the set throughout shooting to ensure that all of the details are as accurate as possible, from the way a security detail operates to how agents use their radios, and even the fact that every president has a unique code-name (in this case, "Traveler"). But the backdrop only bolsters what would be a fine film in other circumstances. Petersen, best-known previously for the epic Das Boot, has since built a reputation for big-budget action/suspense films, and several set-pieces here drive the story forward. But there are also small, personal moments that elevate the film beyond its genre, primarily with Eastwood as the grim-yet-sympathetic central figure. As Horrigan, Eastwood alters his voice into a sandpaper rasp, almost as if his breath will last no longer than his Secret Service career. Joining him is Rene Russo, who is used to good effect — despite the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous, her clothing is that of a genuine female secret service agent (high heels and short skirts are not allowed), and even though she's Horrigan's de facto love interest, the subplot always remains firmly in the background. But at length In the Line of Fire becomes Malkovich's movie — his sociopathic, but far from insane, assassin would have been wrecked by a lesser actor, one who would try to find ways to make the villain more "scary." Booth is scary, but in a way that always bubbles under the surface, always one step ahead of his foes and rarely losing his cool, even in the tensest of circumstances. Malkovich may have more talent than any Hollywood action picture would require, but In the Line of Fire still contains one of his best screen appearances. Columbia TriStar's second DVD release of In the Line of Fire offers a solid anamorphic transfer and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it improves upon the early bare-bones disc with several supplements, including a commentary from director Petersen, five deleted scenes (Horrigan's brief, funny anecdote about guarding Fidel Castro on a U.S. visit should have been in the final cut), and four short documentaries on the Secret Service, their involvement in making the film, anti-counterfeiting techniques, and some trick-shots in the picture that you may have missed. Teaser trailer and TV spots for In The Line of Fire, trailers for Das Boot and Air Force One, cast notes. Keep-case.

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