Cut Scenes is Josh Wise’s regular column on the intersection between films and video games. This week, it’s XIII vs. In the Line of Fire.
In the Line of Fire’s hero, Frank Horrigan, is a man divided. His days are bright and pained, his lined eyes pinched with panic, squinting into the bleak forecast of his future. His nights are spent alone in the low light of his apartment, listening to Miles Davis and drinking. So too is he split between past and present; having failed to act in time to stop the bullet that killed Kennedy, he is haunted by failure. His tormentor, Booth, asks him, “Late at night, when the demons come, do you see the rifle coming out of that window, or do you see Kennedy’s head being blown apart?”
XIII’s hero, Jason Fly, is a man pursued by monsters of a different sort. XIII’s villain, codename Mongoose, is a similar cypher to Booth: his bald head, the way he blends in to the chaos of a crowd after gunshots ring out, and the darkness of his work. His camp sneer and cream trench coat seem a concession to the iconic ‘70s spy thrillers from which XIII draws up water, but he is no less a monster, a man walking in the crowd who doesn’t belong. “We can’t have monsters roaming the quiet countryside, now can we?” says Booth.
Fly wakes with amnesia, washed ashore on Brighton Beach, New York. If Frank Horrigan is sundered, with one half in the murk of his past and the other in the struggle of his present, then XIII’s fractured subject is America. Fly is voiced by David Duchovny, a perfect piece of casting: who better to play a man impugning the long shadows of the country’s history, than the one who played Fox Mulder? Duchovny’s sleepwalking-monotone calls to mind Mulder’s iconic creed, and the fuel of a million conspiracy theorists who hold the Warren Commission as apocrypha: “I want to believe.”
The spiralling of XIII‘s conspiracy-laden plot is derived from the pulp of Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance’s comic, but the central theme the game’s story yields is the same as the one at the heart of In the Line of Fire: people willing to forfeit their lives to change the country, whether it be to assassinate the president or to take a bullet for him. Booth says to Frank on the telephone one night, “I am willing to trade my life for his. I am smart, and I am willing, and that is all it takes. That president is coming home from California in a fucking box.”
The scenes of carefully orchestrated violence share similar frames: the flash of a bolt-action sniper in XIII‘s introduction (above) recalls the lingering shot of Booth’s homemade handgun, (at 0:23 in the clip below) which he smuggles into a democratic fundraiser dinner. After Frank takes the bullet for the president (at 1:56 in the clip), the wide shot at 02:08 shows the crowd churning like floodwater, the killer concealed in the panic.
There is a similar moment in the opening scene of XIII (at 0:45 in the clip below), which sets the groundwork for the game’s plot. Mongoose, who reveals himself at 0:53, isn’t the trigger-man, but his conspicuous presence and sinister smirk betray his motives.
What binds the game and the film are Jason and Frank. The sleepy-sounding amnesiac hitman and the burnout bodyguard. XIII has you pulling up a knotted conspiracy like the rot under an infected tooth; In the Line of Fire has Frank defending a president he doesn’t care for against the one person who understands his life. The irony of the film’s last line is that Frank is no longer alone. But it’s a line that rings true and potent for Jason: “You’re a good man, and good men like you and me are destined to walk a lonely road. Goodbye, and good luck.”