In an era when homeland security is at its tightest and terrorism is a household word, an attempted attack on the President of the United States seems like more than just summer movie fodder. Political thrillers have had a noticeable upswing over the last several years, and director Clark Johnson has added "The Sentinel" to the list. Adapted from a novel by retired Secret Service Agent Gerald Petievich, the film aims more for mainstream acceptance than political activism, but it is nonetheless an entertaining diversion, lightweight and tightly packed. "The Sentinel" is now available from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is a celebrated Secret Service agent. He took a bullet for Ronald Reagan during the Hinkley assassination attempt and, 25 years later, is protecting current President Ballentine (David Rasche). He is also having an illicit affair with First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger) and has had a bitter falling out with his former best friend, Agent David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland). When a covert assassination attempt on President Ballentine is uncovered, the evidence points to a mole within the Secret Service. The blame falls squarely on Pete after he fails a required polygraph test, and Breckinridge is determined to catch him.
From the beginning, we know that Pete is innocent and that the reason he fails the test is because of his guilt over his affair with the First Lady. The rest of the movie follows Pete on the run from the Secret Service as he attempts to both clear his name and stop the real terrorists from fulfilling their plan. Aiding Breckinridge on his manhunt is rookie Agent Jill Marin (Eva Longoria), a former student of Pete's who is not as willing to believe his guilt as her partner. Sarah Ballentine also believes he is innocent, but the personal nature of her reasons obviously keeps her silent.
Director Clark Johnson maintains a fairly consistent degree of suspense over the course of "The Sentinel," thanks mostly to his sense of visuals and pacing. The screenplay by George Nolfi is sorely lacking in character development and plausibility. The amount of suspended disbelief asked of the audience for this movie may be a notch higher than the typical thriller requires, as we are supposed to seriously accept some pretty outrageous situations that would be downright unthinkable in reality. The characters are all pretty standard as well. Political marginalizing is sufficiently sidestepped by making the President blandly apolitical. The reason for Breckinridge's animosity toward Pete (he suspects him of having an affair with his wife) is contrived and unfounded. Eva Longoria's character is clearly superfluous, artificially injected into the plot solely to provide a little eye candy. Basinger, who is still exceedingly lovely, is apparently not enough for today's audience.
The film is carried well by Michael Douglas, who proves that he can still generate a sense of sympathetic urgency, even if he is too old for the physical virility required of his character. That a man of 61 could dodge bullets, run for seemingly miles at a time, not to mention remain hidden from an entire government agency and carry on a passionate liaison with Kim Basinger with nary a wheeze is a little incredible, but then again, Cary Grant did it (with Eva Marie Saint and Audrey Hepburn, no less). Douglas possesses an everyman appeal that is used to good effect in this movie to keep the audience securely on his side. We never question his abilities, at least not during the movie, and we remain confident that he will single-handedly save the day, even if that is not a realistic expectation.
"The Sentinel" looks fine on DVD in a 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. Image is crisp and sharp, with well-defined edges and a smooth surface. Colors are well-saturated throughout, with natural skin tones and an overall warm palette. Black levels are excellent, and the film displays a predominantly dark picture, which I suppose is deliberate. There appears to be no edge-enhancement, and the print is free of dirt and blemishes.
A 5.1 Dolby Surround track presents the audio quite nicely with appropriate aggressiveness. Ambience is distributed well around the back speakers, while dialogue comes through clearly with no harshness. Gunshots and blasts are given good boosts, making the action scenes all the more palpable. Alternate French and Spanish dubs are provided, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
An audio commentary with the director and writer kicks off the special features. Johnson and Nolfi display a relaxed demeanor, discussing the making of the film and providing some background on the Secret Service. They also crack a few jokes here and there, making this an entertaining and reasonably informative track.
The 13-minute featurette, "The Secret Service: Building on a Tradition of Excellence," provides a good background of the Secret Service. Interviews with the retired agents who acted as technical advisors highlight this mini-doc and add to its credibility.
Another featurette, "In the President's Shadow: Protecting the President," lasts roughly seven and a half minutes and focuses on the role of the Secret Service right now. Once again, the technical advisors add their input, as well as cast members and screenwriter Nolfi.
Four deleted scenes and an alternate ending are included, each with optional commentary by the screenwriter. A pair of trailers for this film and a few for other Fox releases round out this set.
As an action thriller, "The Sentinel" delivers the goods with tight pacing and ample suspense. As a political thriller, it lacks substance and believability, but it is enhanced greatly by Michael Douglas' performance. What is really nice about this film is that it takes us inside the world of the Secret Service, who are generally given short shrift in favor of more visible political figures. 20th Century Fox has adorned the DVD with some worthwhile features that give greater insight into the movie and the Secret Service, making this a release to keep an eye on.