A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that violence in this actioner includes innocent characters disturbingly murdered (shootings, bludgeonings, strangulation) just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a walk-through of how one might get close to a U.S. president for killing purposes. Swearing is frequent and includes "f--k" and "s--t." The hero (declared to be a divorced alcoholic) and the heroine have sex, though nothing is really shown. The bad guy hints at Washington D.C.'s distrustful secret side, of training hit-men, and carrying out assassinations. Somehow there is no mention of particular political parties, issues, or leanings, even with the election-year backdrop.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran Secret Service agent who, early in his career, was in Dallas the day John F. Kennedy died and has been haunted by the idea that he could have saved the president's life. Now Frank starts getting calls from Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), a crafty, elusive psychopath obsessed with the idea of killing the current (unnamed) U.S. president in an act of kamikaze revenge against the government. Mitch considers Frank to be something of a kindred spirit, even a “friend,” and he toys with the increasingly frustrated agent while stalking the presidential re-election campaign.
Is it any good?
A lot here is expected action-movie cliche. You have the novice-cop partner who's as obviously doomed as those Star Trek guys in red shirts; a “liberated” lady (Rene Russo) who clashes with Frank intially but is destined to be his lover; snotty superiors who don't listen to Frank's warnings. The plot does seem to go on a bit long, leaving no cliffhangers un-hung.
But the formula works like gangbusters, thanks to strong casting and a script that uses Eastwood's advancing age and old-school attitudes to good advantage. It's not just a shoot-'em-up but a compelling intellectual match between hero and villain; Mitch, a jaded ex-soldier who doesn't believe in anything anymore, up against the stern, duty-bound Frank, whom he truly admires as an “honorable” man and can't see why Frank puts his life on the line for decades for those unworthy of him.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the various killers and would-be killers who have targeted U.S. presidents and their often-bizarre motivations (such as impressing Jodie Foster).
Does this movie make Secret Service work look like a desirable career? Why or why not?
Talk about the extraordinary career of Clint Eastwood. Once considered a squinty, limited actor best for all those cop-gunslinger roles, Eastwood has since become a small-town mayor, a musician-composer, and a revered, world-class director. Check out Eastwood's piano stylings in Martin Scorsese's musical docuseries The Blues.
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