The year 1993 was a good one for Clint Eastwood. He won Best Director and Best Picture for Unforgiven, a Western where he plays a tortured, violent man. It is a revisionist film, one where Eastwood tweaks his persona for a modern era and genuinely grapples with his advanced age. It is also a great film, but hardly what anyone would call a crowd-pleaser. A few months later – while riding on that Unforgiven high – Eastwood came out with In the Line of Fire, a thriller with a role that’s perfectly suited to his sensibilities.
He plays Frank, an ex-Secret Service agent who is overwhelmed with guilt after being the only agent from the Kennedy Assassination who still works in the government (an ironic twist since Eastwood is a confirmed Republican). Frank gets a phone call from Booth (John Malkovich), a deranged man who plans to kill the President, but not before he taunts Frank first. The film is a cat-and-mouse chase, with Booth having the upper hand for most of its runtime. The procedural details are serviceable, but the film’s best moments are the psychological needling between the hero and villain. It’s also pretty funny when it needs to be.
But I digress. As a DC movie, In the Line of Fire is downright lazy. The climax does not even happen in DC; it happens in Los Angeles, mostly so the cast/crew could shoot and go back to their homes. Still, there is a great final scene where Eastwood and his love interest (Rene Russo, 24 years his junior) hang out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It is a great scene because so many scenes around the Mall and memorials involve veneration or ceremony (e.g. the Forrest Gump moment at the Reflecting Pool). While the Lincoln is as “Washington” as it gets, at least it shows locals doing what they do best: treating the Mall like their backyard.