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Reel Toronto: The Sentinel

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
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“It’s okay, Mr. President. We’ll make sure you’re safe and then we’ll get to the truck with the french fries.”
The Sentinel is a real mindbender, and not because of its plot. It may be the first Hollywood film to stage scenes in Toronto-as-Toronto for no particular reason, just like we’re a real, normal city!
On the other hand, it also takes place largely in and around Washington DC, but most of those scenes were filmed here too, so try not to have your mind blown while sorting it all out.


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Vaughan, world capital of ostentatious homes, even has its own White House replica for when someone wants to play president.
The plot involves an assassination attempt on the president (played by Sledge Hammer! star David Rasche) at a G-8 conference in Toronto. Kiefer Sutherland plays not-against-type as a clever secret service agent, Michael Douglas is his mentor, and Eva Longoria is the newbie/eye candy.
We all know there is many a McMansion up in Vaughan, but you probably still didn’t know they have a whole White House replica up there. When Wesley Snipes came to town for Murder at 1600, a set was built at Kleinburg’s Cinespace studios. Warner Bros. decided to keep it and it has since been used for several films.
No doubt, part of the T-dot love comes from director Clark Johnson (left), who has a brief role at the start of the flick. The Toronto native already has cred in our books for shooting the finales of Homicide and The Wire, among many other shows. He is also the brother of singer Molly Johnson and actor Taborah Johnson, who gets a bit part here as the First Lady’s Chief-of-Staff.
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McMichael is a great place to meet dignitaries and see some great landscape paintings.
The White House wasn’t the only Kleinburg locale used, either. The prez et al. head to the famous Camp David retreat, actually located in Maryland. Here, camera angles keep the distinctive main building of the McMichael Gallery just out of view, preserving the illusion.
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It’s a Reel Toronto rule: the more flags, the less likely it was filmed in the USA.
The president visits a local school, doing a meet and greet outside first. The street signs are a dead giveaway: this was actually shot in Cabbagetown, on Sutton Avenue. Not too far away is Rose Avenue P.S., where the interiors were shot. The school’s actual choir even gets some screen time.
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First, the killing. Second, the shopping.
In thrillers, you have to have chase scenes, and The Sentinel‘s got ‘em. In one, for example, Michael Douglas is supposed to meet some informant dude at a mall, but the dude gets shot and people pull out guns and chase each other and stuff. This all takes place at lovely Sherway Gardens, and local shoppers can recognize the food court, and even the Sporting Life.
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Run! Run before the seagulls get you!
Later, Jack Bauer…errr, Keifer Sutherland’s character, chases Michael Douglas through a Maryland marshland. This whole bit was shot at Tommy Thompson Park (a.k.a. The Leslie Street Spit). We then shift over to the Portlands, on Unwin Avenue, and at the denouement, Douglas (well, his stuntman) escapes by swimming across the icky water to safety (and you can see the Ashbridge’s Bay treatment plant in the background).
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A Hollywood movie showing the CN Tower? In the middle of a shot? On purpose?
Finally, the movie moves to scenes actually set in Toronto and we get a zillion of them. For starters, the president is set to give his address at City Hall and we get shots galore. There are lovely Hollywood golden hour shots of downtown, like this.
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You know this is only a movie because people are actually standing on the Nathan Philips Square walkways…
Do you love our City Hall? Of course you do. Well, then this is the movie for you! You can see it with SWAT teams! You can see it from overhead! You can see it with barbed wire!
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Usually you only get this kind of response when Rob Ford has been ejected.
What, you want the inside too? There are zillions of shots of the president in the council chamber, and even boring shots of Eva Longoria talking in the phone below the rotunda.
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Across the street, the main bad dude appears to be staying at the Sheraton Centre. It is there he shows off his postcard collection and meets with the secret service dude who is going to help them kill the president.
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The finale itself takes place all around Nathan Phillips Square, beginning with President Sledge and Michael Douglas emerging from the Green P parking stairs (we forget if those are the “Porcupine” stairs, or perhaps “Rabbit?”)
Eventually, naturally, everyone swoops in, justice gets done, and democracy is preserved. And to think, none of it could have taken place without our fair burg.

Comments

  • Toby von Meistersinger

    Seeing this, the 1980 film starring William Shatner The Kidnapping of the President popped into my mind. It was filmed entirely in Toronto with much of it taking place in Nathan Phillips Square.
    That film may be the first Hollywood film to stage scenes in Toronto-as-Toronto.

  • Mark Ostler

    I wonder if the Toronto factor will make up for the fact that this seemed like such a mediocre presidential-assassination thriller.

  • Lands Down

    saw it in theaters, it was pretty awful, but seeing toronto did sort of make up for that.

  • Joe Carter

    Perhaps the movie would have been better if David Rasche played the President as his Sledge Hammer! character?

  • mapleavenue

    Loved the Rob Ford caption! Also think it’s a real nice photo from the islands. Looks like a painting.