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IN THE LINE OF FIRE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Gole, Fred Thompson, John Mahoney
Director:  Wolfgang Petersen
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  128 Minutes
Release Date:  July 1, 2008

“What do you see, when you’re alone in the dark and the demons come?”

“I see you, Frank…standing over the grave of another dead president.”

Film ***1/2

In the Line of Fire is about as smart and as good a thriller as you could ever hope to see.  It’s smart because it creates real characters and sets them loose in a cat-and-mouse game with the highest stakes involved.  And it’s good because of tight direction and editing, and two superb performances by two of our strongest film actors.

This is one of Clint Eastwood’s best performances.  He plays Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service man who’s been on the job so long, he was there on the fateful day President Kennedy was assassinated.  In some respects, he’s been haunted by that event ever since.  Did he do his job to the best of his abilities?  If he had done more, could the president have been spared?

It’s the one vulnerability in an otherwise tough and gruff exterior, but it’s the one vulnerability that Mitch Leary (Malkovich) exploits.  Leary plans to kill the current president, but he actually seeks Horrigan out as a formidable opponent.  He calls him.  He gives him pieces of information.  But Leary is as smart as he is dangerous, and resourceful.  Tracking him won’t be easy, even if he makes an effort to keep Horrigan in “the game”.

This is my favorite performance from Malkovich’s outstanding body of work.  This mild-mannered Midwesterner brings to life an unsettling portrayal of ruthless efficiency and purpose.  He’s off-center, but not over the top.  He might be crazy, but he’s driven and doesn’t plan to fail.  The script eventually reveals more and more about his character as the movie unfolds, and the clues build Leary up into something truly terrifying.  His Oscar nomination was well deserved.

Assisting Horrigan is Lily Raines (Russo), but it won’t be easy.  Horrigan isn’t exactly PC on his views of women in the service, but that plays to Eastwood’s strengths; not many actors can make over character flaws seem charming and endearing.  Romance might even be a possibility, but with time running out, and Horrigan facing the prospect of having another president die on his watch, there’s no promise of success.

Wolfgang Peterson has crafted a taut, suspenseful, character-driven thriller, based on the Oscar nominated screenplay from Jeff Maguire.  Yet for all the good material at their disposal, it’s really the strengths of Eastwood and Malkovich that earn our emotional investment.  In a late scene, Horrigan opens up about that terrible day in Dallas…what happened, what he did, and what he didn’t do.  Now, even though he’s trying to do is job, we understand that the stakes are much higher for him…possibly even his own redemption.

It’s always welcome to have a thriller that relies more on intelligence than action, and that engages the audience from the brain down instead of the adrenal glands up.  Two men are facing off with one thing in common:  each is willing to die for the sake of the president.  By the time the climax comes, you will realize just how long you’ve sat spellbound.  That’s always a wonderful feeling.

Video ****

I don’t know why I didn’t expect this movie to look as good as it does on Blu-ray, but it’s outstanding.  The multiple crowd shots of rallies and such deliver remarkable detail…you can see faces, signs, distinct colors and more.  Flesh tones are particularly good; some of the most natural I’ve seen.  The overall image is sharp and clear all the way, even in darker scenes, and it seemed like one scene was even more impressive than the next.  Superior!

Audio ****

The 5.1 audio offers plenty of dynamic range and surround effects in bigger scenes and even in smaller ones, keeping a genuine sense of ambience throughout.  Yes, there’s some action, but also lots of personal activity, planes arriving and departing, and more…it’s a top-notch listening experience.

Features ****

The disc contains a commentary from Wolfgang Peterson, four production featurettes, a documentary “The Ultimate Sacrifice”, and some deleted scenes.  I wish the original trailer was here…it was a classic.

Summary:

In the Line of Fire gets Blu-carpet treatment with this terrific release from Sony.  One of the best, smartest and most cerebrally engaging thrillers in recent years looks better, sounds better, and offers more than ever on Blu-ray.

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