Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a Secret Service agent currently attached to protect "Cincinnati", the code word for the First Lady, Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger). Pete is a legend in the force, as he took a bullet for Regan during the Hinkley shooting. Now, he is content to help protect the First Lady, serving alongside Montrose (Martin Donovan), the Secret Service agent protecting the President (David Rasche). One of Pete's friends, another agent by the name of Charlie Merriweather (Clark Johnson, TV's "Homicide" and the film's director), is killed. David Breckenridge (Keifer Sutherland) and his new partner, a rookie, Jill Marin (Eva Longoria) are called in to investigate. David is a former best friend of Pete's and Jill was trained by Pete. An informant tells Pete there is a plot to assassinate the President. Soon David suspects Pete of the murder and the plot and Pete has to work on his own to uncover the mastermind behind the attempt to assassinate the President.
"The Sentinel", directed by Clark Johnson, is an okay entry in the thriller genre. Certainly one of Michael Douglas' best efforts in a while (Mr. Douglas, see "Don't Say a Word" for an example of what NOT TO DO again), the film holds your attention for a while, but is rife with problems.
From the moment the plot is revealed, there are basically three people who could be at the heart of the plot to assassinate the President. The film does a fairly good job of throwing doubt on all three. In fact, it does such a good job that the final revelation is a letdown. In fact, when we learn who is behind the plot, an earlier scene makes little sense. They seem to be sabotaging their own effort. Presumably, we are supposed to believe the characters is having second thoughts, but this isn't adequately conveyed. So typical. It would have been much more fun to have a more outlandish mastermind, someone who really stretched the credibility. That way, if the film did its work and provided all of the clues, we would have a very memorable exercise, something we could tell all our friends about. As it is, this is the type of film you would recommend to people who read every James Patterson novel and remark "It was pretty good. Almost as good as the last one". (Get it. They're all the same!)
In fact there are many things which aren't adequately conveyed. In an early scene, as Pete is walking to work, he passes a protester who is protesting Bush and another war. Huh? The President in the film is named Ballentine. Is the protester caught in a time warp? This is an insignificant example, but it shows the type of attention paid to the story and the film.
Douglas does a good job with the role. Pete puts his heart and soul into the job and we believe wholeheartedly he could never be the mastermind. While this is good for the performance, it also hinders the film. It removes yet another person from the equation. If Pete can't have done it, it leaves a smaller circle of suspects. As he goes about his job, we see the professionalism, the attention to detail he brings to everything. Later, when a secret is revealed about Pete, it makes his character all the more interesting. It simply proves he isn't perfect.
I am a huge fan of the television series "24" and it has resuscitated Keifer Sutherland's career. Unfortunately, I feel the character of Jack Bauer (from "24") is so memorable, that Sutherland is getting typecast in `Government Operative' roles. David Breckenridge is a softer, gentler government agent, but not by much. He has a bone to pick with Pete, because of some bad history, which causes him to pursue the leads like a rabid dog. He has a job and will let nothing, nothing stand in his way. The role is extremely similar to Jack Bauer, but Breckenridge does manage to show a little humanity. Very late in the film.
Eva Longoria's first big screen appearance is a bit disappointing. Her character Jill Marin doesn't really play an integral part to the story. She seems to be included merely to give the male Secret Service Agents something to oogle at. When she first arrives at the White House, there is an ongoing interaction with one of Breckenridge's assistants. He can't keep his eyes off of her. It is an amusing touch, but it doesn't add anything to the story and seems an odd addition. Later, as the mechanics of the investigation get into gear, she becomes a true supporting character. "Jill, did you get those fingerprints." "Yes, they are a match". This is the type of interaction she is reduced to, as the two male leads are running all over the place, trying to solve the mystery. It is basically a role anyone could have played.
Director Johnson does manage to keep the action moving. But throughout the film, he overuses a technique, wearing the effectiveness down. Early on, he starts shooting things as we might see them if we were on a surveillance team. A lot of long distance shots, through telephoto lens, with abrupt moves and zooms. It is interesting, but when the majority of the camera movements are done with this technique, it makes them less effective. It also jars us out of the story when we are constantly aware that there is a camera. The key to an effective film is when we feel as though we are a participant. If you draw attention to the fact that we are watching a film, we can't feel as though we are a participant. It feels like an exercise in filmmaking, not an exercise in storytelling.
Late in the film, Breckenridge seemingly shifts his character 180 degrees and suddenly becomes Pete's ally. This shift is entirely unconvincing, because it happens so quickly and isn't sufficiently explained or detailed.
"The Sentinel" is a mildly entertaining film, worthy of a bargain matinee or DVD rental. Much more than that and you will probably feel like you have paid too much.