Release Date(s)1993 (June 15, 2021)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Castle Rock/Apple-Rose Productions (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is a U.S. Secret Service agent at the tail end of his career in Washington DC. He’s protected multiple American Presidents in his day, but it’s the one he failed to protect—John F. Kennedy—that continues to haunt him. But when he’s assigned to check out a random local wacko named Joseph McCrawley (John Malkovich), whose strange behavior has been reported by his landlady, it turns out that said wacko not only spots Horrigan, but identifies him… and calls him on the phone at home to talk. McCrawley, which of course isn’t the man’s real name, tells Horrigan flat out that he intends to kill the current President, who’s in the middle of a reelection campaign, and he sees Horrigan as a worthy adversary in his contest of “catch me if you can.” When Horrigan reports this to his superiors, the White House downplays the danger. But the President’s current Secret Service detail, led by Agents Watts and Raines (Gary Cole and Rene Russo), has to take it seriously. And as evidence of the threat grows, Horrigan and his still-green partner (Dylan McDermott) find themselves at the center of McCrawley’s deadly cat-and-mouse game.
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Outbreak, Air Force One), In the Line of Fire is one of those solid psychological action thrillers that isn’t standout in any one aspect, but is rather just so solidly made all around that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. The pacing is slow by modern standards, the direction and cinematography aren’t flashy, and the plot was standard fare even when this film was new. But at its heart, In the Line of Fire is a character drama, and those characters are so well written and performed that you can’t help being drawn in by them. Eastwood’s Horrigan is a man who knows he’s a dinosaur in the modern Secret Service, in danger of overstaying his welcome. But he’s been given a chance to make up for his greatest mistake, so he can’t walk away. (In fact, McCrawley would never let him, even if his superiors forced the issue.) Anne Coates’ editing is a master class of efficiency, which perfect makes sense when you learn that she cut Lawrence of Arabia as well. And while Ennio Morricone’s score feels both out-of-date and oddly romantic, each tack seemingly ill-fitting given the subject matter, somehow it works.
In the Line of Fire was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Aaton 35-III, Panavision Panaflex Gold II, and Panavision Panaflex X cameras with Panavision anamorphic lenses, and it was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Sony has scanned the original camera negative and master interpositive (for opticals, titles, and transitions) to create a native 4K Digital Intermediate with new grading for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available on this disc). This remastering process was supervised by cinematographer John Bailey and approved by Petersen. The result is absolutely spectacular image quality with just one qualification (more on that in a moment). The improvement in resolution is remarkable, with exquisite fine detail visible in skin texturing, hair, suit fabric, tie patterns, building materials—you name it. Grain texturing is light-moderate to light, but it remains present and organic at all times. Gone is the slightly too green, washed out, and digital appearance of the previous Blu-ray release. Colors are vibrantly saturated and accurate at all times—skin tones, foliage, flags, etc—and the expanded gamut adds lovely naturalism. There’s a shot at the French embassy (in chapter 5) with an orchestra playing in front of a hanging tapestry; the colors in the tapestry exhibit remarkably nuanced shades of green, olive, tan, brown, and blue-gray. Yet the walls are a lovely salmon pink, and the U.S. and French flags are bursting with vibrant blue, white, red, and gold fringe. What’s more, the contrast has been expanded to produce wonderfully dark yet detailed shadows, while the brightest portions of image are brilliant to the point of being eye-reactive. And this is where that qualifier comes in: The highlights are so bright that they start to look a little blown out in places, with a bit of detail that was visible on the Blu-ray getting lost. Now, there’s no doubt that this is the way the filmmakers wanted the 4K UHD image to look, and it’s a very minor quibble compared to the sheer quality of this image overall. But it must be noted and it’s the only thing that’s keeping me from giving the image an A+. It’s still very, very good.
Audio is included in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that’s in no way flashy, but is beautifully mixed. The clarity is excellent, with a full-sounding tonal quality and firm bass. The stage is largely front focused, but it’s nicely wide, with Morricone’s score presented in outstanding fidelity. Use of the surrounds and height channels is restrained, but very light atmospherics are nearly constant. There are lots of little sonic details and sound effects cues that complete the hemispheric immersion. When the agents race out of their office building in D.C. and run across the street into Lafayette Square, you can hear traffic swirling all around. Gunshots pack plenty of oomph. The mix never sounds dated, but it never sounds modern either—it’s just naturalistic and highly pleasing. Additional audio options include English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio—which preserves the original theatrical sound experiences—along with 5.1 DTS-HD MA in French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Castilian Spanish, 5.1 Dolby Digital in Portuguese, Russian, Latin Spanish, and Thai, and 2.0 mono Dolby Digital in Hungarian. Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, and Thai.
Sony’s new 4K disc includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Wolfgang Petersen
- The Ultimate Sacrifice (SD – 22:13)
- Catching the Counterfeiters (SD – 5:28)
- Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service (SD – 19:55)
- How’d They Do That? (SD – 4:58)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 5 scenes – 4:53 in all)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:20)
All of these are carried over from the original 2001 Special Edition DVD release, which was produced by our old friend JM Kenny, with the exception of the teaser trailer (that’s newly-added for this release). The commentary actually features both Petersen and Kenny, the latter serving as a kind of sounding board for the director and asking questions from time to time. It’s a good listen. The rest of the extras are fairly straightforward but interesting, all of them but the teaser in SD. Behind the Scenes with the Secret Service was originally produced by Showtime to promote the film’s theatrical release. Note that there’s no remastered Blu-ray copy of the film in this package, so you may wish to keep the 2008 BD if you have it. There is, however, a Digital copy code on a paper insert.
In the Line of Fire isn’t packed with eye-candy, nor is it thrill-a-minute actioner, but it remains an interesting and compelling drama. While parts of its story have aged less well than others, the film still holds up remarkably well. And thanks to Sony’s new 4K UHD release, the film has simply never looked or sounded better. This release is highly recommended for fans, and it’s strongly recommended for 4K enthusiasts who appreciate fine remasters of pre-digital catalog films. Here’s hoping that Sony releases Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot in 4K with an upgraded Atmos sound mix as well. Because that would be a helluva thing.
- Bill Hunt