We see commercials on TV frequently for the Coast Guard. They have become so commonplace that some may even have a mental image of a bored guy in a lighthouse praying that something will happen. The Guardian aims to be a fair tribute to those who put their lives on the line for those drowning at sea on a near-daily basis, even if we don’t always see the stories on CNN. Save for an overlong runtime and a questionably cast Ashton Kutcher, the film registers as a pleasant start to the Fall season.
Ben Randall (Costner) is, simply put, the greatest rescue swimmer ever. He keeps to himself just how many lives he has saved (while his peers speculate amongst themselves), but his dedication has cost him his marriage to wife Helen (Ward). As the film opens, Ben’s crew is wiped out in an accident at sea. His supervising officer, Hadley (Brown), tells him he can either hang it up or teach the ways to a new group of recruits. Jake Fischer (Kutcher), a champion swimmer, is part of his first class. His attitude and dedication immediately catches the eye of Ben, and from here one would be a fool to believe they won’t end up working together.
Director Andrew Davis (best known for 1994’s The Fugitive) knows his way around a solid action picture. The rescue sequences, although filmed in a giant tank standing in for the Bering Sea, look incredible. The vastness and power of the water is conveyed beautifully, relaying to the audience just how much dread can be felt in the open sea. The danger seems real.
However, the film does have some moderate pacing issues. Like so many movies that require a training montage (I can’t help but think of Team America: World Police), the one found in The Guardian is way too long. Thirty minutes did not need to be spent trying to convince us that training to be a rescue swimmer is extremely hard work. I heard people in the audience groan just when Ben gave the order to “tread water for one hour.” Furthermore, I counted no less than two opportunities for the film to conclude before it actually does, hence the bloated runtime. It almost feels as if Davis wanted to try and please every demographic that will see the film.
Kevin Costner easily steals the show with his authoritarian presence and delivery of wise-ass dialogue. He not only schools Ashton Kutcher in rescue swimming in the movie, but also in acting in reality. The casting of Kutcher seemed suspect from the outset, but I was willing to give it a fair shake. Unfortunately, he never comes across as realistic in the film. He half-grins his way throughout and doesn’t offer a big enough physical presence for a hotshot swimmer. The supporting cast isn’t given a whole lot to do, but there is some quality work from Clancy Brown and Melissa Sagemiller.
Flaws aside, The Guardian still emerges as an above-average military drama, even if it does come with the obligatory cheese and a flair for the melodramatic. Costner, along with the first-rate rescue sequences, gives the film an emotional undercurrent that resonates, not to mention gives the Coast Guard a well-deserved tribute.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 136 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality.
Theatrical Release: September 29, 2006
Directed by: Andrew Davis
Written by: Ron L. Brinkerhoff
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Omari Hardwick