Even in his early 60s, not only can Clint Eastwood still carry a film with consummate ease, but he even manages to turn his maturity to his advantage.
In this superior cat-and-mouse thriller, he plays Frank Horrigan, an ageing Secret Service agent, haunted by his failure to save President Kennedy on that fateful day in November 1963.
30 years later, in the run-up to an election, he has the chance to redeem himself when he uncovers a plot to assassinate the current president. But with his history, everyone thinks he's being paranoid, and physically, he's not quite what he used to be.
The would-be assassin is Mitch Leary. Or is it John Booth? Or perhaps, James Carney? Who knows? That's the secret of being a presidential assassin: mystery. John Malkovich delivers one of the most deliciously creepy performances of his outstanding career as the master-of-disguise Leary (we'll settle for that one), a highly intelligent and callous loner, who seems more interested in taunting Horrigan than he does in actually killing the president.
The relationship which develops between them gives Leary's empty life meaning and provides Horrigan with a long-awaited opportunity to shake off his ghosts.
In the film's other key relationship, the veteran agent has to work with a woman for the first time. Rene Russo, as Lilly Raines, does more than just provide the obligatory Hollywood love interest: she brings warmth and humour to an otherwise tense and chilling psychological chase.
Not a line is wasted in a tight script and the direction is well-paced, detailed, and crisply controlled. There's a lot going on but Wolfgang Petersen manages to unfold the action and the relationships with effortless clarity. If some of the sequences seem a little far-fetched, he can be excused because the pay-off is always worth the wait.