$2.50 Reviews: The Sentinel (2006)

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$2.50 Reviews

The Sentinel

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I think I need someone to try to explain to me why everything happens in The Sentinel. The film moves so quick and has no reason behind most of its characters' actions that I'm still trying to piece together why these people act the way they do. Sometimes I wasn't even sure how they got from place to place. Am I getting old? Can I no longer follow a film that treats plot like a background, nothing more, for clichéd action and thrills?

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The basic gist of the film is easy enough. Michael Douglas plays a veteran Secret Service Agent, Pete Garrison. He's taken a bullet for the President in his 25 years of service, and is one of the most respected people working today. We soon learn there's a mole inside the agency, and there's also a plot to assassinate the current President (David Rasche). The Sentinel starts out as a "find the mole" movie, where Pete and his former best friend, David (Kiefer Sutherland), attempt to track down who it is that wants the President dead. It's only at the 13 marker that the film takes a predictable turn which completely changes the tone.

Spoilers for anyone who cares: It is thought that Pete is the mole, so he has to go on the run, while also attempting to figure out who the real mole is. Of course, he's our main character, so we're supposed to believe his side of the story. I was hoping there would be more to it than this, but instead, we just get a pretty basic spy thriller for the next third of the film. Pete runs a bunch, has secret conversations with people, all while David tries to track him down.

And then, during the final third of the film, we blend the two elements together, except one character changes sides for reasons that are not explained very well by our movie. One scene, there's a conflict, and in the very next scene, it has been resolved. But only between the two characters; everyone else still thinks that it's still going on, which leads to some very stupid interactions that only prolong the inevitable conclusion. Anyone surprised by a single turn in this movie should slap themselves silly -- and after that, they might understand it better.

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I'm not sure if the film made sense when it was still in screenplay form, but if it did, it might have been double the length. The Sentinel seemed like it was hastily put together, with significant portions of it missing. This leads to plot holes and parts that just don't make any sense. I tried to follow along -- really, I did -- but after a while I gave up. I had a good estimate to how it would turn out and figured the details about how we get there really didn't matter.

Even many of the subplots and characters either make no difference in the end or shouldn't even be in the film. Maybe they did in an earlier cut. Early on, we see that Pete is having an affair with the First Lady (Kim Basinger), and that storyline goes ... nowhere. Eva Longoria turns up as a rookie Agent, and does absolutely nothing but stand there and have the camera follow her around from behind. Her character could be removed and nothing would be lost, save for an attractive person to maybe draw in some teenage viewers.

It's not even that it doesn't make a lick of sense that makes it bad; it's that everything that happens within it is so formulaic and dull that there's nothing compelling to keep you watching. You can accept a silly narrative if there's something else to hold your attention, but that's not present in The Sentinel. You keep hoping for something to grab you -- some visual choice, the good actors showing their stuff, something -- but nothing ever comes. You're left sitting in a corner and crying that you wasted two hours of your life.

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And when the final reveal comes, and you learn who the mole really is, you'll probably have to wonder who this character even is and what his reason is for doing anything in the film. I couldn't recall seeing him more than a couple of times before this reveal -- he certainly didn't have any characterization -- and he seems to be the mole just so that nobody can figure it out beforehand. Well, sure, but how much fun is that? "My magical character, one of whom you've seen none until now, is actually behind it all. I'm so clever." That's what the film and its director seem to be shouting at you in the finale.

Michael Douglas rarely plays to his full potential. He's almost always watchable, but he doesn't stretch nearly as much as someone with his talent should. Kiefer Sutherland is playing essentially the same person as his 24 character, from little I've seen of that show. The two women have no reason to be in the film; giving them purpose might have improved the finished product. Everyone's fine but nobody is amazing and that's one of the things that would have helped save The Sentinel.

This is one dull film that tries to be too complex for its own good, and winds up not making enough sense for it to be followed. Whether the studio trimmed it, a smarter editor was needed, or the screenplay didn't make sense to begin with, I couldn't make heads or tails of some of the details in The Sentinel, or why it would make many of the decisions it makes. It has good actors with nothing interesting to do, and there's no reason for you to watch it.

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