There are some movies that, like it or not, end up becoming those pop culture gaps in an otherwise slowly growing knowledge base, those titles that you either never got around to watching for some unknown reason or because you weren’t at the right time in your life for it to make an impact. In my specific case, not watching 1992’s The Bodyguard, in spite of the plot consisting of so many aspects that seem tailor-made for my self-professed romance sensibilities, it was simply a matter of timing. When the romantic drama starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner was released, I was much too young to be seeing an R-rated movie (not just by my parents’ estimation, but anyone’s) — but even once I aged up into an appropriate demographic, it wasn’t a film that I considered priority viewing. It’s taken the near-30 years since The Bodyguard first premiered in theaters for me to finally give it a shot (no pun intended, but if you know you know), but with it comes the realization that maybe its score on a certain fruit-named review site is only indicative of what critics weren’t able to fully appreciate at the time, and why it’s always important for new voices to examine certain movies with fresh eyes.


In summary, the plot of the film (from screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and director Mick Jackson) is pretty straightforward: Frank Farmer (Costner), a former U.S. Secret Service agent who retired after the very prominent attempt on President Reagan’s life, now serves as a bodyguard to those who can sufficiently pay him for it. Enter Oscar-nominated actress and pop singer on the rise, Rachel Marron (Houston), whose career catapult to stardom has landed her in the crosshairs of more than one fan who might be a little too dedicated to her. When Rachel’s manager Bill Devaney (Bill Cobbs) seeks out Frank to hire him as her bodyguard, the two leads instantly clash over Frank’s intensive protective methods and Rachel’s seemingly naive nonchalance about the threats being made against her.

Image via Warner Bros.


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Later, of course, it’s revealed that the only reason Rachel believes her situation isn’t as dangerous as it really is is that all the men surrounding her have misled her to think so — they’ve been downplaying the presence of her most invasive stalker, up to and including not informing her about the recent incident where he broke into her home. But it’s more than just the stalker that poses a threat to Rachel’s life; it turns out that there’s someone else targeting the artist in a fit of jealousy over her skyrocketing success, and they’ve hired a hitman to take her out definitively. If that sounds like a lot of spinning plates to balance at once, that’s because it sort of is, and if there are any true flaws to be found in this film it’s the fact that Kasdan’s script doesn’t always successfully juggle all of its thriller-based plots. When it comes to the romance, however, that’s another story entirely — in other words, there’s a reason the swooniest elements have indelibly carved themselves on all of our collective pop culture memories.

In the hands of lesser actors, maybe The Bodyguard would have been much less successful on more than one front; with Houston and Costner anchoring its story, there’s a reason this romance classic still sings even in a first-time viewing. Having participated in a work-driven binge-watch of Yellowstone recently, I was aware of Costner as a rugged cowboy protagonist, gruff and firmly set in his ways, but as Frank Farmer, the titular bodyguard, his capabilities as a romantic hero are on full display. He’s a more laconic presence on-screen, still a man of very few words, but his expressions manage to speak volumes regardless. As a natural foil, Houston’s Rachel is effervescent and charming no matter what she’s doing, whether it’s standing on stage in full Queen of the Night regalia or sneaking out to go jogging, wisps of hair falling out of her ponytail to frame her face. It’s far from love at first sight; theirs is an opposites-attract draw that hinges on the chemistry of its leads, and the most captivating scenes result when the two of them are sharing the screen with only each other to play off of.

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Image via Warner Bros.


Watching this film, I was gradually reminded of an argument I’ve come back to over and over again while taking in anything with a romantic bent — screenwriter Alanna Bennett once posited that for any male character to be believable in that capacity, he has to know exactly how to look at his love interest, even if he isn’t saying very much at all. What’s come to be known largely on Twitter as Bennett’s Look Theory has infused the way I study movies and TV of this nature, and watching The Bodyguard for the first time offered a prime example of just how good Costner is at communicating feelings through a single gaze. The first time Frank lays eyes on Rachel in the middle of a crowded dance studio, there’s no doubt whatsoever that he falls a little bit in love with her right then and there just by the look on his face — and we do too, by extension. It’s almost impossible to believe that this was Houston’s first acting role; she has a magnetism that carries far beyond her stage presence, with the ability to put Costner back on his heel in more than one scene. Rachel is the whirlwind of a woman who comes into Frank’s life and upends it entirely, and Houston’s performance is what contributes to leaving both him — and us watching — forever changed long after the credits roll.

Speaking of performances, it’s impossible to talk about this movie and not mention the music; the Grammy-winning soundtrack itself boasts six songs from Houston, two of which were nominated for Oscars, and remains the bestselling soundtrack album of all time. Watching the film, it’s easy to see why, and while a more cynical person might consider the use of Houston’s music an overreliance, The Bodyguard succeeds at being much more than a mere star vehicle to advertise her phenomenal vocal talents. There’s a reason that Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” has achieved iconic status, and the film uses it to poignant effect in one of the story’s most romantic moments. When Rachel gets off the plane and runs into Frank’s arms for a passionate kiss, you can almost let yourself believe that these two are going to find a way to make it work in spite of the odds, that even if he can no longer be her professional protector he can still exist in her life somehow.

In some ways, it’s not surprising that The Bodyguard was largely panned by critics in spite of its financial success — one glance at the reviews aggregated for the film tells you all you need to know about the perspectives that initially approached the story and almost seemed predisposed to dislike it, calling it melodramatic or cloying. At the time of its release, it seems unclear whether anyone truly knew just how much The Bodyguard‘s premise would serve as the blueprint for countless stories that owe themselves to its impact — how many bodyguard romances have we seen play out since, if not on-screen than definitely in print? Ultimately, in spite of a somewhat muddled thriller plot, it’s the slow-burning passion between its leads that makes this film worth not just a first-time viewing but many repeats thereafter. 30 years on, The Bodyguard may have been a classic movie I came to late, but now it’ll be one I will always love.

Rating: B+



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