During his last cabinet meeting in 1865, Abraham Lincoln approved creation of the Secret Service, to combat counterfeiting. Later that same day, in Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth fired a single shot into Lincoln’s brain, mortally wounding him. It would take the assassinations of two more American leaders, James Garfield in 1881 and William McKinley 20 years later, before the Secret Service was assigned to protect the president. And for six decades, its agents, a mysterious and elite group of human shields with lightning-fast reflexes, successfully safeguarded the occupant of the White House. That perfect record was bloodied on Nov. 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.
In the Line of Fire is set against the backdrop of that tragedy. In his first role since directing and starring in last year’s Oscar-winning western Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood is back as fictional present-day Secret Serviceman Frank Horrigan, the only agent still on active duty who was with Kennedy on the day of his murder. In the midst of a routine security investigation, Horrigan receives an unnerving telephone 5 call from a psychopath, played 8 with eerie believability by John f Malkovich, who threatens to kill ö the current president during his bid for re-election. The cunning would-be assassin quickly zeros in on Horrigan’s Achilles heel: his nagging sense of guilt that he failed in his duty to “take the bullet” to save JFK.
There are moments throughout the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama when one wishes that he had. Although the script is generally credible (the film is the first to have the cooperation of the usually arcane Secret Service), the dialogue is occasionally over-thetop. “Well, Abe,” Horrigan says to the Lincoln Memorial statue, “Damn, I wish I could have been there for you, pal.” The film also tastelessly exploits Kennedy’s memory: Horrigan, it is revealed, once pretended that
dictably, shows him the errors of his ways.
one of the president’s mistresses was in fact his girlfriend in order to protect the boss’s reputation. And like the grainy Abraham Zapruder home movie of JFK’s assassination that appears faintly behind Eastwood during a flashback, a painfully unimaginative love interest is superimposed on the psychological drama. Horrigan, who is a bit of a male chauvinist, falls for tough female Secret Service agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo), who, pre-
Still, despite the movie’s shortcomings, German director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) manages to keep it genuinely suspenseful. Malkovich is brilliant as Horrigan’s chameleon-like nemesis. And, at 63, the raspy-voiced Eastwood is as lean, if not as mean, as ever. In the Line of Fire offers a gripping peek at those who put their lives on the line to protect the most powerful individual in the world. And, like presidential assassination itself, it is morbidly fascinating.
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