Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Sentinel Is A Thoroughly Average Thriller That Somehow Manages To Entertain

The Good: Decent acting, Good pacing
The Bad: Poor Editing/Direction, Thoroughly predictable, Eva Longoria Is A Nonentity
The Basics: While the cast and performances are good in this "protect the president" thriller, The Sentinel‘s direction is clunky and the plot is unsurprising.

Billing in movies often intrigues me. Billing, as you might know, is the order in which cast members are credited in a movie. Top billing is your biggest star, usually, or the one who is bearing the brunt of the acting in a film. There's billing above the title, which is reserved for your biggest stars, there's billing right after the title and there's final billing, which is often reserved for a prestigious actor who wanted to be set aside from the beginning but couldn't crack the first couple of billing spots (Victor Garber, for example, on Alias (reviewed here!) took final billing as opposed to being after Jennifer Garner and Ron Rifkin). From there, billing just goes into credited cast and sometimes that baffles me (how Andy Dick and Brent Spiner do not appear in the credits for Dude, Where's My Car? (reviewed here!) still weirds me out, unless Spiner was too embarrassed to be associated with the project, which I suppose is possible). Anyway, billing in movies almost entirely has to do with things outside the actual film experience, so it's something I don't usually focus on. With The Sentinel, though, billing once again came to my attention. Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland have top billing, before the title. Eva Longoria, who appears to be looking for a vehicle outside Desperate Housewives appears immediately after the title. Kim Basinger, who remains one of Hollywood's most weirdly credited actresses, is given final billing for a role far more substantial and important than Longoria's. Moreover, Basinger as First Lady Sarah Ballentine is more substantial and satisfying to watch (and possessing more airtime) than the role for which she won her Best Actress Oscar in L.A. Confidential (reviewed here!). So, part of what I want to open this review with is the concept that Basinger deserves a lot more credit for her role in The Sentinel and those looking for a real Eva Longoria performance are likely to be seriously disappointed.

The Secret Service of the United States of America, charged with protecting the President of the United States, appears to have a mole in it that is determined to kill the President. Pete Garrison, a veteran of the Service who once took a bullet for Reagan, is the prime suspect when the idea of a plot against the President is raised and he fails a polygraph. His former protege, David Breckinridge, is the lead investigator of the case and he bears a grudge against his former mentor. As David hunts Pete, Pete flees while trying to evade the real assassins and trying to expose the mole within the Secret Service.

The most serious problem with The Sentinel is simply that we've seen it before. This is a fairly unsurprising movie with plot and character resolutions that are oversimplified. This instantly reminds this reviewer of The Game (reviewed here!), another Michael Douglas thriller that failed to thrill because all of the significant twists and turns were entirely foreseeable to anyone familiar with the genre. Similarly, The Sentinel follows so closely in the tradition of movies like North By Northwest (reviewed here!) and The Negotiator as to be fairly predictable. In recent viewing, I think I was more entertained by 16 Blocks.

The thing is, I sat down ready and excited to see The Sentinel. By the end of the opening credits, I was already somewhat disconcerted. The editing is very choppy and not only in the opening sequence. The iconic problematic cut is the transition from the credits to the action of the movie. The camera pans up the White House and the american flag's bottom comes into view and the shot cuts back to a wide shot. It feels more sloppy than stylistic. A decent style could save a movie like this. But the direction from Clark Johnson is more problematic than intriguing.

The characters are generally well-presented. They are interesting and there is a sufficient amount of backstory with Pete and David and Pete and the First Lady to justify the animosities and affections portrayed. Sadly, there is not enough backstory to justify the loyalty Jill shows Pete as opposed to trusting her new boss David. Quirks like that are what keep knocking my impression of the movie down as I write this review.

The movie is well cast, with two exceptions. Eva Longoria adds nothing to the role of Jill. Her character is a nonentity in this movie and Longoria does nothing to break the character out of that mold. Similarly, David Rasche as President Ballentine is terrible casting. There is nothing distinctly or convincingly presidential about Rasche and his performance does nothing to convince the viewer of his status in the world. That's a huge drawback in a movie about protecting the president.

Conversely, Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, and Kim Basinger are all perfectly cast and give wonderful performances. I never would have guessed Basinger could pull off the role of First Lady, but she does it wonderfully. She is compelling, actually, as the distanced First Lady who feels detached from her husband. She makes so much of the movie's movement work.

Sutherland gives a performance that reminds us that he can be rational, something 24 does not give him too often of late (dude, stop torturing people for information! It doesn't work in real life!). Sutherland is cool, reasonable and efficient as David and he rules the scenes he's in without Douglas.

Michael Douglas gives a performance that is not distinctive (it is reminiscent of some of his other roles, like his performance in The Game), but that he does quite well. Douglas is reasonable and his portrayal of an investigator who is methodical and intelligent is entirely plausible. He keeps the movie working, even when the direction is falling down or the plot is foreseeable.

All in all, this movie was engaging enough to keep me awake to watch it. That's why I'm ultimately recommending it. It has just enough to make it worth watching, if not enough to make one want to own it. Just be prepared for it to not surprise you.

For other political thrillers, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Wall Street
The Informant!


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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