Program Length: 128 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p
Languages: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Dutch, Bahasa, Korean
Filmmakers have long been intrigued by the subject of political assassination. One of the earliest such films that I recall is Anthony Mann’s The Tall Target, a 1951 movie about an attempt to kill Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Then of course there is The Manchurian Candidate, filmed first in 1962 and remade in 2004. Several films have been made about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the 2006 film Bobby examines the murder of his brother in 1968. Other assassination-themed films include 1954’s Suddenly and 1974’s The Parallax View. The films which I have mentioned include only assassination attempts upon American politicians; there are many more films which focus upon assassinations in other countries.
One of the best assassination films is In the Line of Fire, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and starring Clint Eastwood. One thing which sets this movie apart from the others is its focus on the workings of the Secret Service, which among other things is charged with protecting the life of the President of the United States. Eastwood plays Frank Corrigan, an aging Secret Service agent who is now working on counterfeiting cases. It is 1992, and Corrigan is the only active Secret Service agent who was part of JFK’s protective detail in Dallas in 1963. Over the ensuing years Corrigan has been haunted by the belief that he might have been able to save JFK’s life if he had reacted more quickly to the sound of the first shot.
When Corrigan and his young partner, Al D’Andrea (Dylan McDermott) become aware of a man in the District of Columbia who is threatening the incumbent president, there is no unusual alarm because such threats are relatively commonplace. But then the potential assassin (John Malkovich, in a brilliant performance) reaches out to Corrigan, calling him at home, thereby setting the stage for an intriguing and suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. The would-be assassin calls himself “Booth” (he does not want to be called “Oswald” because John Wilkes Booth had “panache,” which Lee Harvey Oswald seriously lacked). He is aware of Corrigan's involvement in the JFK assassination and he taunts the agent with suggestions that he is not willing to put his life on the line for the president. Attempts to trace Booth’s phone calls either fail or are significantly delayed because of his use of sophisticated scrambling devices. It becomes increasingly apparent that his threats against the president are quite serious and real. Corrigan gets himself reassigned to the president’s protection detail, where he teams up with agent Lily Raines (Rene Russo). Corrigan clearly wants to redeem himself for what he sees as his failure in 1963, but there are concerns that his involvement is too personal and that his judgment has become suspect.
Throughout the film the target of the threats, the president, is by design kept at a distance from the viewer. All that we know about him is that it is an election year and that he is trailing in the polls with just a few weeks to go before Election Day. We do not know his name (he is referred to only by his Secret Service code name, “Traveler”) or his political party. Nor is his opponent ever mentioned by name. This approach allows the viewers to focus on the battle of wits between Corrigan and Booth without having to consider whether we would support or oppose the president. Live footage from actual campaign appearances during the 1992 presidential campaign is seamlessly integrated into the film to give it a very authentic look.
There are many suspenseful scenes and the film has a very thrilling climax. Eastwood is perfectly cast as an agent who has seen it all and is nearing retirement. Malkovich is positively chilling as the creepy assassin who kills people as easily as you or I would swat a fly. In the Line of Fire is a superb action film and is highly recommended.
Sony has done itself proud with another first-rate Blu-ray transfer. The picture is exceedingly sharp, allowing the viewer to examine every nook and cranny in Clint Eastwood’s weathered face. Color fidelity appears to be perfect. I observed very little grain, which presumably is how the movie was filmed because it does not appear that there has been excessive digital processing. The scenes which were filmed on location in Los Angeles and the District of Columbia are exquisite, and some of the shots of the nation’s capital are breathtaking.
Shadow detail in the many dark scenes is excellent and I never felt that I was missing anything.
The supplemental materials are in standard definition.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 audio is very satisfying and involving. There is considerable use of the surround channels in the action scenes and there is some noticeable punch in the lower ranges. The dialogue is clear and always comprehensible. There also is nice dimensionality to Ennio Morricone’s pulsating score.
Be aware that the film’s soundtrack is set lower than the sound level of the disc’s introductory materials. I had to raise my volume level about 20db when the feature started.
The extras on In the Line of Fire are identical to those found on the Special Edition DVD which was released in 2001.
There is a commentary track with director Wolfgang Petersen.
There are five deleted scenes, one of which involves Corrigan sitting at a piano in a bar. When a woman strikes up a conversation with him, he has her play two chords on the piano, but when she strikes the keys there is no sound. Apparently it was decided to delete that scene before the music was added.
A 22-minute documentary entitled “The Ultimate Sacrifice” talks about the Secret Service and how the agency cooperated in the making of the film.
A Showtime special called “Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service” appears to have been a promotional piece which aired on Showtime when the film was originally released. The special runs for 20 minutes and goes into some detail about how Secret Service agents are trained.
There is also a 5-minute featurette entitled “Catching the Counterfeiters” which describes how our currency has had to go high-tech to outsmart counterfeiters who use computers to make phony bills. Another 5-minute featurette called “How’d They Do That?” demonstrates how blue screen technology was used to insert images of Clint Eastwood and other actors into scenes of the 2002 presidential campaign and even into film of JFK's visit to Dallas in 1963.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
In the Line of Fire is an outstanding thriller and Sony has given it a superb Blu-ray transfer. It boasts a tight script and it moves along swiftly. There is of course a romantic angle between Corrigan and Raines, but it is a minor diversion and does not distract from the film’s essential tension.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD10A DVD Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: July 1, 2008