Thursday, February 3, 2011

"In the Line of Fire:" A man is never too old to track a psycho and bag a hot girlfriend

Title: In the Line of Fire
Released: 1993
Genre: Presidential assassin suspense
Notable for: John Malkovich is one great villain
Coolest thing Clint does: Takes a bullet for the president

Full disclosure: We always thought "In the Line of Fire" was one of the most under-rated Eastwood movies, and not solely because of Clint.

John Malkovich deserves half the credit for playing an outstanding twisted-genius, psycho-bastard villain engaged in a psychological battle with Clint.

Malkovich is either the best villain ever to tangle with Clint, or he's in second place behind that crazy sumbich Scorpio in the first "Dirty Harry." Tough call, but either way he's damn good.

Of course, Clint pulls his weight, too.

Rather unrealistically for 1993, Clint plays a Secret Service agent who was on duty for the Kennedy assassination. For 30 years he has questioned himself for failing to take the fatal bullet.

Much was made of Clint's "vulnerability" in this film. Mostly this means he played an old guy who runs out of breath jogging alongside the presidential limo. Hell, Clint was 63 when he made the movie. It does not strike us as a bold move to play a guy who was growing old at age 63.

More surprising, Clint is a fairly normal, mostly nice guy. He smiles, plays piano for fun and seduces a much younger woman (Rene Russo). He doesn't hate his job and his superiors don't hate him, although he has friction with a presidential chief of staff played by a future presidential candidate in real life.

Older and nicer, sure, but Clint is still hell on bad guys.

Malkovich is one sick but deeply laid-back dude. He is a former CIA assassin who has, as they say, gone rogue. He breaks the necks of women and shoots dumb rednecks who cross his path.

His plot to kill the president is ingenious in every way except its stupid lack of secrecy. Malkovich frequently calls Clint on the phone to tease him along in a cat-and-mouse game.

Their banter generally involves Malkovich describing a psychological kinship with Clint (which is not correct at all) and pointing out ironies of their situation. Clint usually responds in a less sophisticated way.

"You've got a rendezvous with my ass, motherfucker," Clint says. Well, it played better as an onscreen comeback than it reads in print.

One of their scenes ranks among the most memorable in the annals of Clintdom.

After a rooftop foot chase, Clint finds himself dangling for dear life from the top of a tall building. Malkovich reaches down from the roof to save Clint. Clint pulls his pistol and sticks it in Malkovich's face.

If Clint pulls the trigger, both will die. If he lets Malkovich go, they both live. As this dilemma plays out, that freak Malkovich takes Clint's gun-barrel into his mouth and deep throats it. Weird, intense and weirdly intense.

Malkovich has all the advantages, including superior intelligence, but Clint is tenacious. He unravels the plot and, of course, saves the president and takes down the would-be assassin.

Right at the end, Clint goes to his dumpy house with his new squeeze Russo. There they discover another phone message left by Malkovich before his death. As he yammers away on tape, Clint and his girl walk out, no longer interested in the psycho.

Game over, Clint wins. Tenacity and a charming smile make up for a lot of disadvantages.

Next up: "A Perfect World."

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