The tagline starts, “In 141 years, there’s never been a traitor in the Secret Service….” and before you get to the end of the little dots you can already guess the next two words: “Until now.” Of course there is a bit more to it than that, but the tagline gives you about all you need to know or should know about the plot of The Sentinel going in.
Michael Douglas plays Pete Garrison, an aging Secret Service agent famed amongst his peers for taking a bullet meant for Ronald Reagan. Years later he is still working in the agency and discovers a plot to kill the president. The answer to your next question is, “Yes, 1993’s In the Line of Fire.” The answer to the question after that is, “Yes, very similar and unquestionably inferior. But still worth seeing.” After all, there is a lot of space between the superb In the Line of Fire and a run of the mill movie. The Sentinel manages to get itself almost exactly in the middle of that space: it is done well enough to make us forget the paint-by-numbers script and, though it probably will not occupy any space in my DVD collection, is still an entertaining evening at the cinema.
There is one area where The Sentinel bests its older cousin: details. There are actually a couple of things you will learn about the Secret Service after viewing it, whereas In the Line of Fire, though very believable, did not display much greater knowledge of the Secret Service nor of police work in general than one might glean from a handful of detective shows on TV. These details are definitely a plus, though it is the only aspect in which The Sentinel can claim superiority.
The one area where The Sentinel is vastly inferior, in my opinion, is its treatment of the topic. In the Line of Fire possessed a certain realism about America, politicians, and politics in general. Eastwood grimly declares that he prefers not to get to know the men he guards lest he decide they are not worth taking a bullet for. The assassin’s motivation reveals a dark side to American politics. There is a frank though unattractive honesty to the way campaigning is portrayed. With The Sentinel, this realism is painted over with a less polemical pigment. The sinister aspects, which might have been represented, are absent, and the President is portrayed as a decent enough fellow.
In all else, The Sentinel does adequately well but never shines. The characters are not rich and complex and neither are the relationships between them, aspects at which In the Line of Fire excels. Kiefer Sutherland and Eva Longoria adequately portray characters that lack a great amount of development, but at least they don’t let them fall into clichés. The villains, though well played by their actors, cannot compete with the bad guy from the earlier piece. The story, though it has its share of excitement, lacks the memorable moments of Eastwood’s picture. Even the climax, which in The Sentinel is reasonably satisfying and worth the wait, falls short of the splendid resolution achieved by In the Line of Fire.
In short, The Sentinel is definitely an inferior flick, but like I said, there are plenty of movies that are worse than In the Line of Fire that are worth seeing. It may be paint-by-numbers, but at least the director painted inside the lines and got the numbers right.
The film is never bad, and it follows the rules of action moviemaking to a T.
The film is never great, and it follows the rules of action moviemaking to a T.
On the Side:
Many fans of Kiefer Sutherland’s series 24 insist that the mole is easy to spot if you are familiar with the series. I’ll have to take their word for it.
Final Grade: B-
Starring: Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Writing Credits: George Nolfi (screenplay) Gerald Petievich (novel)
Release Date: April 21, 2006
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality.
Run Time: 108 min.
Studio: 20th Century Fox
By Matthew Alexander, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects