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Sentinel, The Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 July 2007

Image “The Sentinel” is a familiar and sturdy piece of work put together by a good director and exemplary actors and actresses. The story of a decent man accused of a great wrong and chased by the very people/establishment he protected is an old tale, but one that always seems to engage an audience. Michael Douglas plays Pete Garrison, a Secret Service agent in the twilight of his career. Garrison took a bullet for Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s, so he’s something of a celebrity on the job.

The story opens with Garrison starting his day at 4:00 in the morning, performing a series of conditioning exercises, having breakfast, and then getting on to work at the White House. Garrison is assigned to protect the First Lady, Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger). Garrison is playing with fire, however. Sometime before the film starts, he’s become romantically involved with Sarah. No one else knows.

Kim Basinger delivers a solid performance, equal parts socialite and sultry siren. She has never looked better, and her acting has never been more spot-on. Although she doesn’t get much screen time and the part seems to be small, it’s her performance that really pulls Garrison and David Breckenridge (Kiefer Sutherland) back on track in a way that advances the plot smoothly and quickly without a lot of angst and emotional turmoil.

The First Lady and President Ballentine (David Rasche) aren’t exactly simpatico these days. They are reminiscentl of the Clintons, indicating that the movie script made the rounds awhile before finally getting filmed. No explanation is provided for why they’re no longer together, but that’s really beside the point. They’re not together, Garrison is having an affair with the First Lady, and someone knows about it. To add fuel to the fire, a terrorist group has plans to assassinate the president. That possibility is given further credence when one of the agents is gunned down in front of his house. The scene between Breckinridge and Marin interfacing with the Washington DC police department detectives is good, and it introduces one of the little-known (at least until this movie) facts about the Secret Service’s training. They’re trained to draw their sidearm and flip the safety off in one move.

“The Sentinel” does a good job of showing the daily grind of the Secret Service. In addition to protecting the president and his family, arranging the itinerary, they also have to investigate any threat made against the president, his family, or the office. This new threat carries some credence, and even more so when one of Garrison’s primary snitches on the street gives him confirmation of the plot.

The snitch, however, wants a million dollar payoff for what he knows. The Secret Service can’t come up with that much money that quickly. Negotiations are put into place. Of course, the audience immediately knows something will happen to the snitch before he’s able to tell what he knows.

In the meantime, Garrison and Sarah have to deal with the fact that someone knows about their relationship. During lie detector tests that each agent has to take as a result of the tip that someone inside the
Secret Service is going to help with the assassination attempt, Garrison blows the polygraph.

Before he knows what’s going on, Garrison becomes the focal point of the Secret Service investigation. He finds out he flunked the polygraph but no one wanted to believe he was involved because of his past record. With the setup going sour with the snitch, though, the other agents start taking a harder look at him. While he is being questioned, Garrison tries to get Breckenridge to believe in him. Unfortunately, Breckenridge, once Garrison’s friend, is blinded by his jealousy regarding his continued belief that Garrison has been having an affair with his wife. This particular subplot, while it adds to the tension and pressure put on the main characters, seems almost to come out of left field because it’s never truly supported by any kind of history.

Predictably, Garrison decides to strike out on his own todiscover who is framing him. The movie settles into a comfortable lope at this point and doesn’t really offer anything new. Garrison uses his knowledge of the Secret Service to escape the clutches and foil their efforts to bring him in. Douglas does such a good job that you can’t help rooting for him even though you know the deck is stacked in his favor.

Although the story’s twists and turns aren’t anything new and tend to follow paths that we’ve seen many times before, the movie remains very watchable. The action sequences in particular are well done. The choreography of the gunfights and the escapes incites interest. In the special feature section, it’s revealed that Eva Longoria shot better than both Kiefer Sutherland and Michael Douglas.

Eva Longoria’s part as rookie agent Jill Marin could’ve been played by any of the current young, beautiful actresses in Hollywood. There were no special demands made of the role. To Longoria’s credit, she doesn’t try to steal any of the scenes through acting or sexual allure. She plays the part straight and delivers a commendable performance.

The audio portion of the film in the uncompressed format sounded great. The music was clear and played well through the surround sound system. Voices were distinct and mixed well with street sounds. During the action sequences, the gunshots, explosions, and noise of breaking glass sound great.

Although this disc is labeled as single-layer without compression, there were a handful of times the video seemed to come to a full stop, go to gray screen, then proceeds without affecting the audio. It was annoying, but didn’t last long. There were no surface scratches on the disc visible to the naked eye.

The special features on the disc are pretty much what you expect. The pieces about the Secret Service agency itself and the interaction between the actors and actresses with the technical advisors who were all ex-Secret Service agents were easy and pleasurable to watch. Those sections put real faces and real words into the mouths of men who actually did that job at one point.

“The Sentinel” isn’t gripping by any means because nothing new is done here, and it brings to mind echoes of Clint Eastwood’s “In The Line of Fire”. But it is an extremely watchable film with a solid cast that delivers good performances. It’s a good choice for those nights when you want a well-done no-brainer that moves along quickly through familiar territory.

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