The Sentinel

2005sentinelMovie review by Greg Carlson

A creaky political thriller that plays like a throwback to an earlier era of moviemaking, “The Sentinel” still manages to entertain via mostly brisk pacing and audience goodwill toward the cast’s familiar faces. Michael Douglas, clinging to the alpha-male virility he’s milked for ages, plays a veteran Secret Service agent caught up in a plot to assassinate the president. Dispensing almost entirely with any 9/11 nods to Middle Eastern terrorist cells, “The Sentinel” – based on Gerald Petievich’s 2003 novel – proposes that a threat on the life of the Commander in Chief will come from within the highest ranks of the security detail itself.

Despite the preposterousness of the movie’s premise, director Clark Johnson (who gives himself a nifty little cameo as a doomed agent) makes terrific use of Washington D.C. location photography as well as authentically styled interior sets. Not as much can be said for the development of the film’s key relationships, which regularly take a back seat to the impressive scenery. Douglas’ Pete Garrison, who took a bullet for Ronald Reagan, is fastidious about every aspect of his job with a singular, outrageous exception: he’s having an affair with First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger, struggling through a grossly underwritten role).

Garrison’s indiscretion makes him a perfect target for a frame-up, and before you can shout “Hitchcock!” the wrong man scenario kicks into overdrive. Desperate to clear his name and protect the life of the nation’s leader, Garrison leaves the grid, going on the lam after he’s been misidentified as the mole. Aside from a couple of amusing “MacGyver” moments, the middle section of “The Sentinel” concentrates on a rehash of “The Fugitive,” with the arrival of Kiefer Sutherland’s gravelly David Breckinridge. One time best friends, Breckinridge and Garrison suffered a falling out and the younger agent seems hell bent on brining in his one-time mentor.

Sutherland seems to enjoy playing the perpetually grouchy lawman, but his pairing with Eva Longoria – whose major feature film credits are virtually nonexistent – is as undernourished as Garrison’s infidelity with the president’s wife. Despite television stardom on “Desperate Housewives,” Longoria is untested in big budget waters, and her rookie agent Jill Marin is a largely thankless part. When she’s not suffering the stern criticism of Breckinridge, she’s being ogled and hit-on by other agents, which turns out to be “The Sentinel’s” most unoriginal running gag. Given very little to do, one hopes Longoria will have better luck in the future.

One’s enjoyment of “The Sentinel” will depend largely on a willingness to set aside a rooting interest in character relationships. Johnson’s handling of the action sequences fares a bit better, although the impact of the tense climax at the G8 in Toronto is muted by an earlier, largely unmotivated shootout in a mall. Overall, “The Sentinel” is well crafted and notably efficient in the execution of its plot. Johnson excels at maintaining focus on unraveling the intrigue, even though most audience members will be able to identify the double agent immediately.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/24/06.

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