28 April 2002 | rmax304823
This is another of Eastwood's many movies mixing intrigue, action, and a dollop of romance, along with "The Gauntlet," "Firefox," and so forth. Clint's acting range by now is pretty familiar. In this one, he's taciturn and a bit outrageous, especially with women and superiors. There are no surprises in his performance. But the film itself is something of a surprise; it's above average.
Clint is Frank, a Secret Service agent who, perhaps in a moment of doubt, failed to catch the bullet that killed JFK. He then took to drink, which drove his family away, and now plods along in the bureaucracy until he is contacted by John Malkovitch, calling himself "Booth," who strikes up a sort of skewed relationship with him based on their shared, disillusioned conviction that everything is meaningless except the impulse to escape dreariness and predictability. Now, this is rather an anfractuous set of attitudes for a performer like Clint to project, but he does rather well, less robotic than usual. And he does seem to carry around with him, like a burden of stone, the memory of that moment in Dallas.
He's tested again halfway through this movie. He is hanging from the roof of a tall building, grasping Booth's hand, and he pulls his pistol and points it at Booth, who asks him if he is really willing to shoot. If he does, of course, he saves the president from an attempted assassination by a CIA-trained murderer, but he does so at the cost of his own life. Booth twits him about the situation as they hold hands in midair.
Later Clint even has a short speech, talking to Renee Russo, about his failure to save the president in Dallas. "If I'd have reacted quickly enough, I could have taken that shot . . . and that would have been alright with me." It's underplayed, but his voice chokes slightly, his eyes water, and his lip trembles. It's one of the few scenes in any of Clint's films that might properly be called "moving." We know from his newfound resolve that given another chance he would take the bullet this time. (The irony is that he doesn't like the current president. Who could? He gives pompous speeches in Colorado about how they "carved a nation out of the wilderness." Didn't they do the same thing in Las Vegas?)
It's often said that a movie is only as good as its villain. It isn't true, nothing is that simple, but an argument could be made for its truth value in this case. The reptilian John Malkovitch with his Tartar eyes is marvelous.
Talk about disillusioned. Okay, he can ham it up a little, sniffing with disdain even as he plugs two innocent hunters between the eyes, but he's fascinating on the screen. Renee Russo has little do to. Fred Thompson, as the chief White House aid, is now back in politics, a relief for movie-goers. If Clint's acting range is limited, Thompson's is something less. In every film he's been in, he wears the same solemn and dissatisfied expression, as if constantly plagued by some form of volcanic digestive disorder.
The direction by Wolfgang Peterson is as good as it was in "Das Boot," which is pretty good. There is a great deal of the usual suspenseful cross-cutting in the final shootout. And when Clint and Russo fall into an impassioned embrace in her hotel room and scuttle backwards towards the bed like two weasels in heat, Peterson playfully shows us their feet along with a succession of objects dropping to the floor -- not only the usual garments but handcuffs, guns, beepers, palm pilots, Dick Tracy wrist watches and other impedimenta. Interrupted, Clint lies back on the bed and sighs, "Now I have to put all that stuff back on again."
Well written and worth watching.