In the Line of Fire On DVD
Frank Horrigan has had a tough career. A veteran Secret Service agent who was on JFK's protective detail, Horrigan is the only living agent to have lost a president. Now assigned to busting counterfeiters, he's still haunted by November 22, 1963, and still grapples with what he might have done differently that day. When a would-be assassin begins calling him with threats against the current president, Horrigan makes it his personal mission to prevent history from repeating itself.
That's the premise of Wolfgang Petersen's 1993 suspense thriller, In the Line of Fire, which Eastwood chose as his follow-up to the successful Unforgiven, which he had directed himself. The star's Oscar-worthy performance, together with a sparkling script and crisp editing—not to mention John Malkovich's memorable turn as a creepy psycho—made this one of the most thoroughly entertaining films of the 1990s.
Eastwood gives multiple layers to Horrigan, a gruff, weathered agent who, deep down, seeks redemption for his inaction three decades before. At various times he's abrasive, professional, charming, and pitiful. His life is put under a microscope by Malkovich's Mitch Leary, as Horrigan struggles to maintain his psychological shield against the stalker's taunts and tests. When Horrigan's tough exterior finally cracks, the audience is treated to the rare sight of a 63-year-old macho screen icon fighting back tears, his lips quivering as he comes to terms with the day that forever changed his life. It's one of the greatest performances never to be nominated for a gold statue.
ITLOF was one of the first DVD titles to be released by Columbia TriStar back in 1997, and that release had nothing in the way of extra material. So give the studio credit for going back to the well to create this special edition. This is a great film that merits extra content, and what's here is plentiful and of very high quality.
There's a commentary track by Petersen, an enthusiastic advocate of DVD whose English has probably improved from all the commentaries he's done for his films. The director is informative, and more coherent than on some of his earlier tracks. He spends much time talking lovingly about his stars and the attention to accuracy of this film, which he calls his favorite. It's definitely worth a listen.
The sense of realism Petersen sought for ITLOF is the basis of some of the other features, notably two 20-minute documentaries. Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service and The Ultimate Sacrifice are both laden with promotional fluff, but incorporate comments by actual agents, Secret Service training footage, and historical photos tracing the evolution of the Service. One is left feeling inspired by these men and women who train to take a bullet intended for the President.
Other featurettes include a short look at the movie's special effects and Catching the Counterfeiters, which is little more than a rundown of the anti-counterfeiting features of the new US paper currency. The disc also contains five deleted scenes, most of which were justifiably left on the cutting room floor; trailers for other Petersen films (Das Boot and Air Force One); and the teaser trailer and 10 (!) TV spots for ITLOF. The teaser is notable because it previewed poorly with test audiences and was never actually used.
ITLOF's technical qualities were excellent in its theatrical release and still are on DVD. The anamorphic widescreen image looks practically cinematic on TV, completely devoid of telltale signs of compression. The dialogue is well-anchored to the onscreen action, and the use of the surrounds, though subtle, sucks viewers into the action. Like most of Columbia TriStar's recent titles, there are eight sets of subtitles, including Portuguese, Korean, and Thai.
If you never owned this movie on disc, now is the time to buy it. And if you already have the original DVD edition, there's enough here to warrant giving In the Line of Fire a second shot.