Clint Eastwood headlines’ Wolfgang Petersen’s slick 1993 thriller In the Line of Fire - now on 4K UHD Blu-ray from Sony. The film still holds up as a stylish and intense show with great performances from Eastwood and Malkovich. The film gets a long-deserved upgrade from a relatively poor 1080p outing to an often stunning full native 4K with HDR10 and a strong Atmos audio mix. If you’re a fan this is an easy upgrade. Highly Recommended.
[Update 6/24] Unfortunately because of copyright restrictions we couldn't publish a comparison video, but we've updated and included additional comparison images to the gallery. 4K images on top, 1080p Blu-ray on the bottom.
“I see you Frank. I see you standing over the grave of another dead president.”
Frank Horrigan was there 30 years ago at Dealey Plaza. He’s the only active Secret Service agent to lose a president. After a career of busting currency counterfeiters, Frank is pushed back into serving and protecting when a madman who calls himself Booth (John Malkovich) threatens the president. Obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, Booth plays a cat and mouse game goading Horrigan to catch him or die trying. Does Horrigan have it in him to take that fateful bullet, or will he fail and let another president die?
Hot off his career-defining performance and direction of Unforgiven, In the Line of Fire was made in that very brief five-minute period where Eastwood said he wouldn’t be acting in another film he directs. With Wolfgang Peterson behind the camera, Jeff Maguire’s tightly wound Oscar-nominated script, and removed from any producing or active creative decisions - Eastwood feels at ease as Horrigan. It’s almost as if he took a vacation to play one more classic everyman tough guy before jumping back into the director’s chair. He brings a sensitivity to the role that comes from playing action heroes for decades but is still more than capable of taking on a younger faster foe. This is the movie that proved Eastwood still had it in him to make an action thriller. And he’d try again a time or two but without the same gusto or enthusiasm. I enjoyed Blood Wook, Jeff Daniels is fun - but it’s not a great movie by any stretch.
While Petersen’s direction and the film’s script are key factors, this movie wouldn’t be what it is without Eastwood and Malkovich. The two are in their element with their respective roles of Horrigan and Booth. Eastwood was more interested in playing multi-faceted characters making Horrigan a memorable turn for the legendary actor.
Malkovich is Malkovich - give him good material and the man will run wild with it. Give him crap material and he’ll easily steal any movie he’s in. He stole Jennifer 8 by acting like his thinly-written stereotype bull investigator had a cold! His Booth is absolutely terrifying and most of the time he’s just on a phone with Eastwood. The few scenes they actually share together are electric. He earned a much deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination for his efforts.
The rest of the supporting cast are fine with what they've got to do, but I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Rene Russo with this one. As one of her first larger roles, she’s very good but her character doesn’t get to do a whole lot. One moment she’s a capable woman of action standing alongside her male compatriots the next she’s stuck as the emotional support for Eastwood’s Horrigan. Similar to Dylan McDermott’s younger agent Al who mostly works for comedic relief for Eastwood to bark at. Thankfully he’s not completely one-dimensional, his character gets something of an arc to follow but not much. But thin supporting characters is the only real criticism I have of this movie. Everything else is pitch-perfect thriller material.
They say timing is the key to comedy but it’s every bit as important for when a movie is made and released. 30 years after Kennedy’s assassination, the nation was obsessed with the conspiracy theories, the Warren Commission Report, and the small scraps of information that were being declassified and released. For whatever stock it’s worth, Oliver Stone’s JFK was still in the cultural mindset. So a thriller about a madman threatening the life of the president cast against the backdrop of Kennedy was a smart move. Without that tether, I feel like In the Line of Fire wouldn’t be nearly as effective or as memorable.
And now nearly 30 years since this film’s release, we get to examine it again on 4K UHD Blu-ray. Growing up in an Eastwood house, I still remember seeing the trailer for In the Line of Fire in theaters. My dad and I knew this was going to be a great movie and it was! It holds up. The performances from Eastwood and Malkovich ground the action while Petersen’s direction keeps the movie on track building to a thrilling climax. In the long catalog of Eastwood movies, it may not be his absolute best but it’s a high-ranking contender in my book.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
In the Line of Fire upgrades to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a single-disc 4K UHD + Digital set from Sony. Pressed on a BD-100 disc and housed in a standard black case with an identical slipcover, the disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. The included digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible and will port to all available platforms.
From the outset, I’ll say that aside from the audio I was not at all impressed with the 2008 Blu-ray release of In the Line of Fire. It barely passed muster simply recycling the old master used for DVD with little improvement. It was overly bright and people had a waxy featureless presence. As an early adopter of Blu-ray that disc was one of my first big disappointment blind buys I picked up for my birthday that year. Thankfully - this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray wipes that disc off the map. If Sony wasn’t going to remaster the Blu-ray, I’m glad they didn’t bother including that disc in this set.
In simple disc-flipping apples and oranges comparisons - it’s no contest. From those first notes of Ennio Morricone’s score this native 4K 2160p 2.39:1 HDR10 transfer there is an immediate improvement. The film is suddenly filled with lifelike detail and bold robust colors. The first time Al picks up Horrigan you can see facial features and costume details you’d never see on the 1080p Blu-ray. Mere seconds later when Tobin Bell pops up it’s cemented that this transfer has so much more to offer fans of the film. The grain structure is natural giving the image a welcome film-like quality while opening up a world of close-up, middle, and background details.
The HDR10 pass is judicious offering bold colors, deep blacks, and crisp whites without going overboard. People actually have healthy skin tones in this transfer! Primaries are bright with Blues and Reds getting a lot of attention given the number of American flags and red, white, and blue balloons floating around. The scene where Horrigan and Raines go to the Lincoln Memorial at sunset offers some terrific highlights with the red/orange sunset and the long cast shadows. The nice deep black levels and shadow gradience gives the image a terrific three-dimensional quality throughout.
A couple of cooked-in holdbacks still stand out. The early CG composite shots of Eastwood and other cast members at various real-life presidential rallies still stand out as they just kind of hovers over the background. There are a few other moments like that where the image looks flat or oddly out of place, but they’re brief and relatively few and far between. The shot-reverse-shot of Booth holding Horrigan on the roof is an example where it’s just a bit off looking but nothing near a dealbreaker. Taken as a whole, this is a terrific restoration effort and another great catalog title on 4K that easily overtakes any previous home video release.
To be honest, I’d have settled for the video restoration, that was my big priority for this release but I’m happy to report the Atmos mix is terrific. Flipping between discs, this is another easy upgrade over the previous Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that was already pretty good on its own.
While this mix may not be wall-to-wall action with constantly active overhead activity, the extra element spacing is notable. When sound elements move about they take a much more elaborate path giving clean object placement along sides, front/center, and some overhead. Most of the time the overheads are for atmosphere and spacing but they do get to come alive - airplanes flying overhead or the early scene on the boat are great pinpoint object effects.
But sound effects aren’t the only benefactors here. From the get-go voices feel much more present and lively. Flipping between the discs, I kept having to greatly increase my volume on the old Blu-ray to match the same impact of the Atmos mix. If that wasn’t enough Morricone’s creepy intense score gets an added kick with some excellent channel placement. Also included are English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and English DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks - which are pretty great in their own way, but if you’re rocking Atmos there’s no reason to use them.
Nothing new to the stew here. Everything has been ported over from the previous Blu-ray and DVD releases. It’s fine material, the Wolfgang Petersen commentary is worth the listen but it’d been nice if some new bonus features could have been assembled.
In the Line of Fire is one of those thrillers that had everything going for it. A director in peak form, a screenplay with crackling dialog, terrific leading performances, and the 30th Anniversary of the Kennedy assassination to get folks excited. Nearly 30 years later this film never fails to entertain. If you’re the action hero Eastwood fan, he’s at his best.
Sony Pictures delivers a more than worthwhile upgrade of In the Line of Fire to 4K UHD. The now ancient 1080p Blu-ray had numerous faults that have all been corrected with this release. The video presentation positively sparkles with the sheen of a fresh native 4K HDR10 transfer. Toss in an impressive Atmos audio mix and you have a disc that’s an essential piece to any Eastwood collection. Highly Recommended.