The Bodyguard (1992)

The Bodyguard is most noted for its stellar soundtrack, which includes a slew of winners from the late, great Whitney Houston. But it’s actually more than that, providing some taut thrills and a pretty good look at the chaotic world of guarding bodies. It’s uneven in spots and there are some really awkward scenes, but for the most part Mick Jackson’s film is better than its reputation allows for.

Lawrence Kasdan originally wrote the screenplay in the 70s, planning it as a vehicle for Diana Ross and Steve McQueen. That didn’t pan out, apparently because McQueen didn’t want to play second fiddle to Ross. Later, Ross was again cast – this time opposite Ryan O’Neal. Again, it didn’t pan out. Finally, the task fell to Kevin Costner and the search for a female lead landed on Houston.

Coster stars as Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent now serving the private sector. He’s a sort of samurai type, emotionless and dedicated entirely to his profession. He is meticulous and appears to leave little time for personal relationships. He is nondescript and able to fade into the background. When he’s hired by the manager (Bill Cobbs) of film and music superstar Rachel Marron (Houston), he is put to the test.

Marron is being stalked and terrorized by someone, but she doesn’t want to give up her lifestyle and freedom to be protected. This causes Farmer and Marron to butt heads, of course, and the new bodyguard clashes with members of her existing but lacklustre security team. When the threats get closer to home, however, Marron is forced to put her trust in Farmer and their relationship heads to the next level.

Much has been made about the romance of The Bodyguard, but I actually found it secondary to everything else that was going on. The film really stands strong when it explores the elements between the two lead characters. Farmer’s careful, samurai-like devotion clashes with Marron’s free-wheeling routine and her handlers inevitably take sides, some of them standing by the star no matter how irresponsible her choices are. Sound familiar?

Obviously the tragic passing of Houston casts a shadow over The Bodyguard. Her Marron is naïve at points, feeling invincible in the world of the big show and the big star. Those around her are devoted to her without question, for the most part, allowing her to do what she wants to do regardless of the costs. And her sister (Michele Lamar Richards) struggles with jealousy, so her motives are less than pure.

Costner does well to fade into the surroundings. He doesn’t have a set of traits and isn’t cursed to deliver a bunch of one-liners, choosing instead to walk the path of solitude and low-key acting. His chemistry with the flashier, louder Houston works as a result of his minimalistic approach. When their romance predictably arrives, it feels more natural than it might have under other circumstances with other actors. It’s clear that Costner is able to pull a lot out of Houston.

Jackson’s film has at least two scenes that really show the difficulty of Farmer’s work. The first is at a club that Marron decides to visit last minute. She doesn’t inform him, so he’s going in blind and cold. The place is a chaotic mass of glitz and lights. Farmer has some trouble keeping people off the stage, even as Marron waves him away. The other scene is the movie’s climax at the Oscars. Again, it’s a mass of flashes and faces. The filmmaker does a good job with the cameras and the potential problems Farmer faces while trying to keep his client safe.

The Bodyguard is so much more than a romance and a film with a great soundtrack. It functions on those levels, of course, but I think its ultimate purpose is weakened with such a linear focus. While the script has some kinks and there are some awkward scenes, the movie is pretty good overall. Houston and Costner work well together and the sheer chaos represented by those hunting and haunting the stars from the inside out is startling and perceptive.

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