Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) was there in Dallas on November the 22nd 1963 when the President was shot dead - he was a Secret Service agent and he's had to live with the fact he failed to take the bullet for him ever since. He has continued to work in the field, as today when he and his partner Al D'Andrea (Dylan McDermott) break up a counterfeiting ring although Al has reservations about the way Frank carried this out seeing as how it was Al's life on the line. But Frank doesn't really take chances, he's too experienced for that...
So what if there was someone out there who was prepared to make the planned assassination of the latest President something more personal? That someone being the mysterious Mitch Leary, played by John Malkovich in his inimitable manner as the kind of movie psycho who was brought to the fore after the success of Silence of the Lambs: you know the type, mad genius, endlessly resourceful, can only be taken down by the star, and even then you're not so sure he cannot outwit them, that sort of thing. Not much of a challenge for an actor like Malkovich, but that's what he was hired for and here was a villain to relish.
Certainly he proved his mettle against Eastwood, who was still carrying movies to the top of the movie charts all over the world even in his sixties, hell, he was doing that in his seventies as well. There was quite some anticipation for In the Line of Fire, mainly thanks to a terrific teaser trailer which saw a ticking clock turn into a rifle sight and the year 1963 turn into 1993 as Malkovich told Eastwood over the phone that he was going to see him standing over the President's grave. Cut to Eastwood slamming down the phone, picking up his gun and telling us in the audience: "That's not gonna happen!" Who wouldn't be looking forward to what Clint would do to get out of such a predicament after watching that?
Not that Eastwood's Frank Horrigan has it all his own way as we were often reminded that he was not as young as he used to be, seriously, he seemed to spend a good half of the movie sweating profusely or even out of breath, and his staff were seen needling him about his advancing years, including his love interest. She was Lily Raines, played by the actress often called on in this decade for an attractive older lady to romance the mature movie star, Rene Russo, and finding one of her best matches in Eastwood as with the goodnatured antagonism between their characters they enjoyed genuine chemistry, which was refreshing for a film that could have stuck fast to the by the numbers stylings.
That it provided precisely what Eastwood's fans wanted while still adding that little twist to keep the audience on their toes as they indulged themselves in the thriller machinations was to the credit of a professional job by all concerned. There was a sense with this that it was appealing to the Clint fans of old who had supported him through thick and thin, the kind who really could recall where they were when the heard President Kennedy was shot, and that was reflected in the way it was Frank's dignity which was at stake more than the Leader of the Free World, about whom we find out the barest minimum - he hardly has a line to speak, and doesn't interact with our hero. Considering Frank and Leary speak over the phone for much of the movie, only meeting face to face a couple of times, both stars worked up a believable antagonism which led you to want to see Clint take his adversary down, and if there was nothing truly surprising here when it came down to it, it remained satisfying, wry, exciting, and a good show all round. Plus it was nice that Ennio Morricone composed the music.