In the Line of Fire (1993)

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*. Clint Eastwood (62 at the time) and Rene Russo (39). They must be good because I almost buy it. Just after this film Russo was cast as the wife of Dustin Hoffman (seven years younger than Clint) in Outbreak. That’s Hollywood matchmaking.
*. It’s a sign of how bleak the 1990s were for movies that I remember being really impressed by this one when it first came out. You didn’t expect to go see good movies in the ’90s.

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*. Sure it’s pure formula — the game of cat and mouse, the untraceable phone calls, the false identities and disguises, the testing of the killer’s weapon — but there’s nothing wrong with formula when it’s done well, and it’s executed almost perfectly here.
*. Roger Ebert: “Yes, it’s unlikely that Mitch the killer would jump into that elevator (it’s an example, in fact, of the Fallacy of the Climbing Killer, in which villains always make the mistake of heading for a high place).” One wonders if Ebert objected to this in Naked City. In any event, this isn’t so much a fallacy as an instinctual reaction. Most animals do the same thing. Sure, a professional assassin might be expected to have thought ahead a bit more, but I think the point is that Leary didn’t have an escape plan because he was expecting to die in the attempt to kill the president.
*. Plus, of course, by climbing up to a high place you get to end the movie with a spectacular fall. I think that’s the predictability Ebert was objecting to.

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*. I know some people who find John Malkovich an overly precious method actor. I’ll suspend a general judgment, but I think he’s great here. David Thomson: “He does not seem quite normal or wholesome — he can easily take on the aura of disturbance or unqualified nastiness.” And remember that he’s playing against an icon who barely has to do anything in a role like this (that is, as the grizzled, alpha male dinosaur). That’s quite a challenge.
*. I just love the scene where Leary kills Pam the bank clerk and her roommate. It’s so abrupt and economical. For a moment you see the mask drop, and there’s nothing behind it. The dispassionate professional killer is a familiar type to be sure, but he’s rarely been as effectively portrayed.

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*. I usually bash lousy set design, so here’s a nod (echoing Petersen’s on the commentary track) to production designer Lilly Kilvert’s and set designer Jann K. Engel’s work. From Air Force One to Clint’s bachelor pad, basement workshops to piano bars, these are nice looking sets that are always convincing. Even the luxury hotel rooms look like luxury hotel rooms, and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Bedspreads, plant holders, light fixtures, chairs, and tables all have to be appropriately generic and institutional in that welcoming sort of way.
*. A couple of times during the commentary Petersen says that Edward Hopper was an influence, but I can only see it in one very quick, and very beautiful, shot (below). Perhaps I missed others, but Hopper is not a painter of the late twentieth-century megalopolis so I wouldn’t expect his presence in a film like this.

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*. Would Leary’s composite gun have actually worked? According to Petersen it did. Others have said that such a lightweight construction would be likely to explode or break apart upon firing. I’m surprised it would fire at all in the first place.

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