3 Stars - Troubling
Protecting our President from assassination is the responsibility of the Secret Service. This responsibility requires not only protection from attack by foreign governments, but also by opportunistic or mentally unstable members of our own society. That this is a difficult job is obvious. That it would be impossible if there were a traitor within the Secret Service is what makes “The Sentinel” riveting cinema.
The central figure of the tale, Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas), is venerated for having taken a bullet during the Reagan assassination attempt in 1981. A young agent at the time, Garrison has had an uneven advancement in his career since then and has been given the primary responsibility to care not for the President but for his wife, First Lady Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger). It is while in this position that he and the First Lady begin an affair.
Though we won’t reveal any more of the plot of this action mystery, the lessons it reveals are many. The first and most obvious is one of vulnerability. Sin, whether it is a deceit that sells out a nation for money, or sin which is the betrayal of a marriage vow and committing of adultery, leaves us and those around us vulnerable. Opening the door to those who would use our moral failures against us, Garrison’s and Ballentine’s adultery is representative of a personal consequence that is often misunderstood in an increasingly permissive society.
The consequences of immoral choices are not only experienced by those who make them, but they are also experienced by others. It is most often the innocent who suffer. Whether the betrayed spouse, or the defenseless children, or the President we are committed to protect, it is those in the larger arenas of our lives that our sins most often effect.
The second lesson director Clark Johnson weaves into the film is that trust is invaluable if we are to work together. Although we aren’t sure of the validity of his perception, Garrison’s protégé and friend, David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), does not trust Garrison. Breckinridge believes that Garrison has had an affair with his wife Cindy (Kristin Lehman). This lack of trust for reasons seeming to have nothing to do with their responsibilities as Secret Service agents proves to be a primary problem in their working together.
This too is often true of life. Though we try to separate our private lives from our work lives, the truth is that what we do in private affects our work. In this instance, when the work is to protect the President of the United States, then one’s private life affects everyone. This could be argued as true for all of us, since all of humanity is bound together spiritually and not just politically.
The twists of the plot that eventually bring the film to an end is exciting cinema. But that same ending reveals the reality that the sins which created the drama also cost the lives and careers of people, both innocent and guilty. It is an ending that most of us see coming but still remains an unnecessary loss when it happens in the lives of real people.
- The temptation to be unfaithful in our marriage, or if single to invite a married person to betray their spouse, is a regular if not daily experience. How do you protect yourself from such temptations?
- When the villain of the film is revealed, it is clear that he is acting on decades-old decisions that have now endangered his wife and children. Have you ever experienced the consequences of your sins decades later? What did you do? How do we help people who are suffering now as honorable people from consequences of their immoral decisions years earlier?
- It could be argued that the assumption of the film is that since the First Lady and Garrison “loved” each other that they did nothing wrong. Yet, the fallout of their adultery as shown in the film is also obvious. What do you think? What do you believe the film is saying? Why?
- The removal of Garrison from his position is inevitable. If you were to continue the story, what do you believe will happen to him next. Where do you see his life going?