Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"In the Line of Fire" (1993) - Movie Review

The romantic obligation in a potentially great film is the worst punishment a film lover could run into. You have a deadly character, another deadly character and much fist fight running through psychological games and conversations. Then there is a cushion in between these tough moments posed as a tough agent and an equal to smoothen the tension which not alone becomes sexist but denigrates the notion of the audience wanting to be satiated of such cheap pleasure. This is “In the Line of Fire”, a victim to a worst crime, though common in the Hollywood called compromise and it is painful to see a talented director who gave “Das Boot” and this almost perfect film. It is Wolfgang Petersen.

This is the last film Clint Eastwood acted under a different director than himself and he brings his roughed out persona with the eyes so menacing begging to surrender his opponents. He is Secret Service Agent Frank, one of the guards close to JFK during his assassination. He is old, spent his time, worked out his reputation as the lonely lion and his body is getting too tired up for his job. He is haunted by messed up individual calling himself Booth mouthing around his plan to assassinate the fictitious President in the film. He does so through phone conversation and as any lonely assassin, chooses to fraternize with his opponent. Frank is chosen specifically for the reason of being the one letting the bullet to be taken by the JFK but more than that it is a compassion by Booth. Booth empathizes, sympathizes and closely associates himself to Frank.

Initially we suspect Booth to be a simple freak knowing to press the right buttons to get Frank go nuts about guilt and cowardice. When John Malkovich becomes this man from the voice, the simple freak is real and more so, dead cold serious about his mission. Even beyond that is the affirmation he brings upon his audience. This man is going to complete his work and he is perfectly capable of it. Not because of his advanced gun he is building at his workshop and not because of his technical craft of scrambling his phone signal to be untraceable by the nerds in the department but plainly talking over the phone with the scary Clint Eastwood’s Frank. Malkovich is more than a villain.

The story is only and should have been only about Frank and Booth. It should not have even rested a minute on the shoulders of the flirtation between Frank and the only female Agent in the film, Lilly (Rene Russo). It should not have even shown the face of the President. It should not have settled for a redemption of its old hero. This is not about what the character deserves and gets but should have been about the manner in which he gets it.

The most crucial scenes in the film are the phone conversations between Frank and Booth. In those scenes John Malkovich reigns and Eastwood sublimely rules in his own way of letting the character take it. These two are men given themselves to the job and have undressed themselves of any social skills. They have either chosen to or been chosen by the job to lead a life like that. In Frank’s case, the job sucked him out of the longevity he could sustain a relationship with another human being and in Booth who we learn is a killing machine for the government has a mind created by the job and himself.

In many of the films, where the protagonist is threatened, challenged and often compared with the deadly antagonist of devilish nature, antagonist assumes a friendship with his adversary and in the lapse of doubt and some sprinkled guilt, the protagonist assumes that too. Sometimes it is apt and cannot be more right as in “Heat” and other films miss it (and for weird reason I could not come up with a specific one. May be it is my mind). Frank even at the very end does not share that assumption as Booth does. May be the denial runs so high but these are two different people.

“In the Line of Fire” breathes its genre as a thriller in every step of it. If they could have removed the character of Lilly or at least treat it as an equal as the character says so, there is more thickness in its people’s persona to clash and chew on between Frank and Booth. Even Dylan McDermott’s Agent Al as Frank’s partner is routine and mainly predictable. It has two great actors doing the best roles and it loses itself in not understanding the capability it holds.

As much as I loved the film for the most part, some of the known settlements bothers me to great detail. There is nothing more worse than a great film doing silly blunders for the supposed wider audience. (spoiler ahead) Think about “In the Line of Fire” I had in my mind. The story follows everything except Lilly is there only as a good agent and Al remains as a good partner without being sacrificed. And think about the final part of the film wherein Frank comes home with Lilly though in my version he comes alone after the press hoopla of him being the hero. He is tired and sees the empty house. He plays his phone messages to hear Booth talk about the possible outcome of the assassination. Frank hears it with cold face when Booth says as in the film, “What is there to move on with your life? We are meant to be alone” That is a downer but has a real character to it and a goddamn respect it deserves.

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