The Sentinel
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Sentinel can be found here.

Yes. The Sentinel is a 2003 novel by Gerald Petievich, a former Secret Service Agent. The book was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter George Nolfi.

Secret Service Agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) comes under investigation when a plan to assassinate the President of the United States is uncovered and it is believed tht the assassin is a member of the Secret Service.

What does the title mean?

A sentinel is a guard, someone who protects something. In this case, it is the job of Secret Service agent Pete Garrison to protect Sarah Ballentine (Kim Basinger), the wife of the President of the United States (David Rasche). Garrison has a long history with the Secret Service, having taken a bullet while protecting President Reagan 25 years ago.

They were former KGB agents, aided by a mole within the U.S. Secret Service.

What exactly is a "mole"?

A "mole" is defined as a spy who works within his own nation's government but for an enemy nation. In the context of this movie, the mole is a Secret Service agent within the U.S. government who is actually working for a foreign country or cartel and is aiding their attempt to kill the President.

At some point in the past, the mole had had dealings with the KGB. The movie does not give details about the deal, but it can be assumed that the assassins were either the agents who had made the actual deal with the mole or that they had found out about the deal and were blackmailing him.

Everyone with Q clearance was forced to take a polygraph test. Everyone passed, except for Garrison. He failed because, when he was asked, "Have you violated Secret Service protocol in the last 30 days?", he replied, "No", which was a lie because he was actually having an affair with the First Lady. The polygraph showed that he was lying, although it couldn't tell what he lied about. Since they were polygraphing everyone in search of the mole, the incorrect assumption was that Garrison was lying about his involvement in a plot to kill the President, evidence that he was probably the mole.

This is one of those details for which the movie does not provide the specifics. Garrison mentions that the pictures were taken from a boat with a sophisticated gyroscope-stabilized camera, suggesting that there were big bucks behind it. Some possibilities offered by viewers are: 1) it was the real mole trying to set up his elaborate frame job against Garrison, 2) it was the assassins who got wind of the affair and took the photos with the intention of giving them to mole, or 3) it was the Barantia cartel that was mentioned several times as being behind the plot to kill the President.

The unknown blackmailer who sent the incriminating photos to Garrison also sent a note telling him to come to the Mayflower Hotel at 10 AM. When he got there, Garrison was redirected by phone to the Las Palmas coffeeshop, where he waited but the blackmailer never showed. After leaving the restaurant, he noticed that he was being followed, so he gave his follower the slip and then began to follow the follower. The follower turned out to be an FBI agent who reported that he was being followed. The FBI, in turn, jumped Garrison when the follower led him into a parking garage. When the FBI learned that Garrison was with the Secret Service, they apologized and let him go. Unfortunately, the Las Palmas is a known hangout for members of the Barantia cartel, something that is used against him as evidence when Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland), head of the Secret Service Protective Intelligence Division, later comes to arrest him for treason against the United States.

The assassin, the same one who gunned down agent Charlie Merriweather (Clark Johnson) at the beginning of the movie, was gunning for Garrison's snitch, Walter Xavier (Raynor Scheine). Xavier wanted $1 million dollars from Garrison in exchange for revealing the details about the planned assassination and the identity of the mole. Garrison offered him $100,000 up front and the rest after the mole was apprehended. Garrison agreed to meet Xavier in the mall in order to make the exchange. However, the mole and the ex-KGB knew about Xavier and about the meeting in the mall, and they wanted to shut him up. Garrison was not on their hit list, although Garrison and Breckinridge at first assume that it was a set up by Xavier and that Garrison was the target.

The bombing of the presidential helicopter was one of the attempts made by the ex-KGB agents to assassinate the president. At the time of the bombing, Garrison was involved in the mall shootout, so there was no way he could be responsible for the actual firing of the rocket. However, once the mole learned that Garrison knew about the plan to kill the President, he tried to pin the bombing of the presidential helicopter on Garrison by claiming that Garrison shut down the five counter-measure systems that defend the helicopter from attack. Fortunately, neither the President nor the First Lady were on the helicopter at the time because the Director of Presidential Security, William Montrose (Martin Donovan), decided to change his travel plans at the last minute.

When Garrison is on the lam, Breckinridge catches up with him and fires at him once, hitting him in his kevlar (bullet-proof vest). Breckinridge aims for a second shot but finds that he cannot fire the gun. The next day, before she leaves for Toronto, Sarah confesses everything to Breckinridge about her affair with Garrison and her belief that that's why he failed the polygraph test. She even shows him the blackmail photos. Breckinridge now knows that Garrison is being framed.

If you watch closely the scene where Garrison returns from the mall shootout, he starts to undress. He reaches under his shirt and adjusts his kevlar but, before he can take it off, Breckinridge shows up to arrest him. Thereafter, Garrison escapes, still wearing the kevlar.

Garrison goes to the Merriweather house, hoping that his wife will allow him to look on Charlie's computer to see if he can learn anything more about why Charlie might have been killed, but the Merriweather house is being watched by one of the KGB guys. Garrison follows him home, then breaks into the apartment. A shootout follows in which Garrison kills the agent. A search of his apartment turns up a lot of money, several passports, a cup with his fingerprints on it, and information showing that they're going to try to hit the President again at the upcoming G8 summit in Toronto. Garrison warns Breckinridge of the plan.

They belong to an ex-KGB agent now working for the Personal Security Service of the President of Kargistan. Intel also identifies him as the guy responsible for a Central Asian pipeline attack.

How does the movie end?

Breckinridge and Garrison try to figure out who might be the mole. As everyone who was polygraph tested showed up negative (except for Garrison), they review the list of those tested to see if there is anyone in the Secret Service who was not tested. The only name not on the list is that of the president's security director, William Montrose. Meanwhile, Montrose has been contacted by the leader of the assassins, who calls himself the Handler (Ritchie Coster), and informed that he must jam the communication radios as the President walks to his motorcade or his wife and children will be murdered. When Breckinridge and Garrison try to get into the summit building to warn the President about the impending assassination attempt, they are stopped by the security agents. Suddenly, all security radios go dead, and the agents don't know what to do. Inside the summit hall, Montrose suddenly leaps onto the podium and leads the President away. Breckinridge and Garrison race into the building, while the First Lady shouts The password is CRYSTAL!. Montrose leads the President through a series of corridors and stairways to get him to the safety of his motorcade, but the assassins follow and begin firing on them. Montrose tells the President to turn off his locater because that's how the assassins are tracking him. Breckinridge, Garrison, and other agents fire back at the assassins. One of them kills Montrose, and Garrison takes a bullet in his side. With Montrose dead and most of the other agents down, it falls on Breckinridge and Garrison to get the President to safety. When radios are again operable, Garrison contacts the motorcade and tells the security agent to get an armed guard to the southwest door in order to protect the President. When the President finally emerges, the guard surrounds and escorts him to his limo. Suddenly, one of the guards leaps forward and grabs the First Lady, holding her hostage. It is the Handler himself. Garrison aims and shoots him. The President is whisked away safely. In the final scene, Garrison has returned to the White House and is saying goodbye to the other SS agents. They give him a parting gift of a package of Depends. As Garrison walks across the North Lawn, the First Lady can be seen in a window watching him leave.

The password means "follow my orders". Each day, the president, his wife, and the vice president are given a new password. The password is also given to the security detail of the day. (The security detail is not selected until the beginning of the day, so it is unknown in advance who will be covering.) Sarah shouts the password to Garrison and Breckinridge because they weren't assigned to the G8 security detail that day, and any other agent seeing them running around with drawn weapons would have to assume they are a threat to the President and shoot them. Giving the password, however, gives them the right to be there and to draw their weapons.

It's not known whether Garrison actually recognized him, but he is trained to smell a threatening situation and the Handler may have exhibited signs that told Garrison he was a threat. It's also possible that Garrison recognized his face from one of the passports he found hidden in the refrigerator door when he searched the apartment of the assassin from Kagistan.

Garrison was simply retiring, after having been with the Secret Service for over 25 years. His decision may have been, in part, because he felt that he could no longer be around Sarah Ballentine. His relationship with her became a threat to the President, and protecting the President was always Garrison's number one concern and duty.

So who was the mole?

William Montrose

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 1 year ago
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