Veteran Secret Service Agent, Frank Horrigan is haunted by his failure to prevent the assassination of President John F Kennedy while he was working in Dallas. When another potential assassin Mitch Leary comes on the horizon, Frank throws himself back into Presidential protection, determined not to let another President die.
Sandwiched somewhere between The Firm and The Fugitive on its theatrical release, Wolfgang Petersen's film also tended to fall between the two major Clint tentpoles of Unforgiven and A Perfect World. All of which is a shame, as this is a superior piece of work to all bar that Oscar-winning elegy for the Western.
Essentially an old-fashioned two-hander, Petersen's pacey thriller traces the cat-and-mouse game acted out between veteran Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Eastwood) and would-be Presidential assassin Malkovich. Frank, a man who has literally seen it all before, is haunted by the memory of the day he failed to save JFK, a memory gleefully stamped upon by the genuinely frightening Malkovich. Together, Eastwood and Malkovich make up the best double-act to come our way for some time, the former's innate decency fighting it out every step of the way against the letter's reptilian scheming for the ultimate prize of the life of the US President.
What separates In The Line Of Fire from the rest of the bog-standard good-guy/bad-guy set-up is the clear implication throughout that these two sworn enemies have more in common than they may think, namely a desperate sense of a country gone horribly wrong, a country that has sold them both down the river. Petersen makes sure it's a theme never too far from the surface, but really kicks it home with one astonishing scene where Malkovich finally loses his previous deep cool and explodes down the phone at his quarry's apparent lack of respect.
The other thing that Petersen, director of Das Boot, has going for him is the presence of two of Hollywood's classier acts, with Malkovich in particular turning in an outstanding performance, easily his best since Dangerous Liaisons and one that confirms him to the hall of screen baddie fame. Clint, meanwhile, is just very Clint, clearly relishing the freedom of having to simply play himself, and displaying a refreshing sixtysomething twinkle in his eye whenever the action switches to the always watchable Rene Russo.
Never likely to trouble the Academy, this is as close as a major theatrical release can come to being the perfect video rental.