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Thriller Thursdays: The Sentinel – A ho-hum thriller!

A Secret Service agent is accused of planning to assassinate the US President. He goes on the run to prove his innocence but a determined agent is on his tail.

Thriller Thursdays: The Sentinel – A ho-hum thriller!
  • Sunil Bhandari

Last Updated: 03.35 PM, Jul 21, 2022

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In our weekly column, Thriller Thursdays, we recommend specially-curated thrillers that’ll send a familiar chill down your spine.

Secret Service agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is framed in a plot to kill the US President. David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) is the agent on his tail. Herein lies the complication, Garrison is having an affair with First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Kim Bassinger). And to ensure that the audience is made aware of the fact that Garrison is a hero, it is revealed that he once took a bullet for Ronald Reagan in the fictional reality of the film.

Welcome to The Sentinel.

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There is an enormous serving deja vu involved in the premise itself that one does not even have to be an ardent aficionado of films to figure out how the plot will spin out. Of course, there is a traitor, who could be identified about 20 minutes into the film. The obvious indicators are; a slightly famous actor with a tender backstory or a change of heart, or if there are two very big stars, they will be at odds with one another at the beginning but join forces at the end. With so many big names in the film, it should come as no surprise that the female lead will be a big star as well, but with an utterly wasted arc.

The additional tragedy of The Sentinel is that it starts off with promise with a montage of Garrison’s daily routine. From his 4am exercises, photos of him with Clinton and Reagan on the mantle, and then the insouciant swagger of Douglas as he steps into a crisp sunlit morning. And thereafter, the entire gamut of security detail which kicks in as the President and the First Lady go about their routines is minutely observed and fun to watch. It's comprehensive, all-encompassing and edited with panache. The attention to verisimilitude is commendable, and it is obvious that time has been spent on getting the details as authentic as possible. And then the whole array of Presidential privilege is put on display — the helicopters, beach houses, and other accruements which seem akin to takings of royalty. It all makes for a riveting watch.

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And then, we are introduced to our Jack Bauer archetype, David Breckinridge, an upright Secret Service detective, with a rookie partner Jill Marin (Eva Longoria). There's a murder, there's an affair, there's bad blood between Garrison and Breckinridge. What could be better!

But here's the thing. There's no uphill thereafter, no rollercoaster either and, strictly speaking, no downhill either. First up is Bassinger looking like faded platinum, mumbling the entirety of her ten lines in the film, exhibiting no chemistry with her husband, and even less with her lover. And then there are the action scenes which just don't have the creativity and the fire. They are lacklustre and poorly executed.

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Yet, you will watch the film compulsively, without sitting on the edge of your seat, occasionally scrolling your smartphone, possibly even giving a status update or two. Douglas plays Garrison with ease, without breaking into a sweat. And Sutherland brings a bit of 24 into the scheme of things, giving gravitas to the conflicted soul he carries. If there is a compelling reason to watch this film, it could well be him. The tragedy of the casting is the wasted potential of Basinger and Eva Longoria, who are clueless to the point of being bland, without anything to test their acting chops.

My theory of why such films get made is that studios insist on genre-specific stories, with particularities expanded into something that just about makes sense on paper. But when a promising premise leads to a formulaic story, what you get is a predictable product full of recycled storylines and expected twists.

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Suggestion: If you wish to see something superlative in this genre, check out In The Line Of Fire with Clint Eastwood who never fails to disappoint.

Trivia

1. For authenticity, the producers hired a retired Secret Service agent, Gerald A Cavis as an advisor. Cavis was an expert in law enforcement and a developer of security techniques. Cavis said the film was as "authentic as it possibly can get without being the real thing".

2. The film was based on a book by Gerald Petievich, whose other books were also made into films, To Live and Die in L.A and Boiling Point.

3. The movie featured real-life props including documents under seal, weapons, real badges, notebooks, earpieces, microphones, and even real Cadillac cars.

You can watch The Sentinel here.

(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)

(Written by Sunil Bhandari, a published poet and host of the podcast ‘Uncut Poetry’)

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