The Guardian (2006)

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Review #262 of 365
Film: The Guardian (2006) [PG-13] 135 minutes
WIP™ Scale: 13.25
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 30 September 2006
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Review Dedicated to: Chris "Mighty Duck" M. of Chicago, IL

Directed by: Andrew Davis (The Fugitive)
Written by: Ron L. Brinkerhoff

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Kevin Costner (Rumor Has It... and Field of Dreams) • Ashton Kutcher (Open Season & The Butterfly Effect) • Sela Ward (The Fugitive) • Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) • Clancy Brown ("Lost") • John Heard ("Battlestar Galactica") • Neal McDonough (Timeline) • Brian Geraghty (When a Stranger Calls & Art School Confidential) • Dulé Hill (Edmond & "The West Wing") • Shelby Fenner (Ghost Game) • Peter Gail (Jarhead)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
It is about time somebody gave the United States Coast Guard some credit. One of the lines in the movie is that no one ever cares about the Coast Guard until they are in need of the Coast Guard such as when one's boat is sinking off the coast of Alaska or one's kayak has gotten swept into a sea cave and busted in half. The tribute comes in the form of Fugitive director, Andrew Davis's new film, The Guardian. The title might seem a bit out of left field, but really refers to a mythical man of the sea who appears and helps people lost at sea stay afloat until help arrives. It has even more mythical significance to this film, but that is something only those who see the film will learn.

"…borrowed plot elements. Nonetheless, The Guardian…does a lot of things better than its predecessors…"
Ron L. Brinkerhoff's script divides nicely into three main acts. The first introduces us to Ben Randall (Kevin Costner—finally taking a turn back to the sea after a long hiatus since Water World) as a career Rescue Swimmer—sort of the SEALs of the Coast Guard.

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These are the guys that actually leap from helicopters into arctic temperature water to load the survivors of a sinking ship into little baskets which get hoisted into the bird above. Poor Helen Randall (Sela Ward), Ben's wife, didn't realize when they tied the knot, she'd always come second to saving people at sea. So, she's finally leaving him. And, if that weren't bad enough for a guy who's given his prime years to building his career, his entire rescue team is killed during a category three storm trying to save the crew of a sinking ship. The ship bobs up into the tail of the helicopter knocking off the rear propeller which, as you may know, causes a near instantaneous loss of control and imminent crash. The incident haunts him, causing his commanding officer, Capt. William Hadley (Clancy Brown) to order him to return to the A-School and train the next class of Rescue Swimmers until he gets his head cleared up. Act Two, then follows a fairly formulaic path we've now seen quite a few times from Officer and a Gentleman to Annapolis. A new class of wannabe Rescue Swimmers encounter a rough-and-tumble, hard-nosed instructor who takes the attitude of "prove you deserve to serve" as opposed to the kinder, two strikes and your out policy that had been in place under the command of the former top, and still with chip on his shoulder, instructor, Jack Skinner (Neal McDonough) and base commander Capt. Frank Larson (John Heard). The featured, troubled 'kid' in the class is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a kid that for some reason has turned down Ivy League scholarships for swimming to become a Rescue Swimmer.

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It will take everything in Ben Randall's arsenal as an instructor and pseudo-psychologist to crack through the walls and figure out Jake's motivation. After cutting a kid on the first day of the training program, Ben Randall sets the serious tone for the group. Meanwhile, the each of the other noticeable members of the class: Billy Hodge (Brian Geraghty), Ken Weatherly (Dulé Hill), Cate Lindsey (Shelby Fenner), and Danny Doran (Peter Gail) play small roles in Jake's development. First and foremost, they inadvertently hook him up with his new girlfriend by betting him at a restaurant that he cannot get this girl at the bar, Emily Thomas (Melissa Sagemiller) to go home with him. Subsequently, Emily gets him in a lot of trouble as he opts to spend time with her when he should be at school. Because of this three act approach, we do not get to know any of the other candidates for Rescue Swimmer very well with the exception of Billy Hodge who is back for his third attempt at graduating the program. Billy teaches Jake a great deal about courage and finding it within oneself. A whole series of excellent life lessons ensue with mostly predictable outcomes. There is, however, one scene, where Ben finally breaks Jake down, that pretty much makes the film. Act three is the reconciliation of Ben and Helen, Ben with his job, and putting Jake Fischer to the ultimate test. Be forewarned, the movie has a very, very tragic, though not entirely unpredictable, ending. As one door opens, another closes.

Despite the plethora of peripheral characters, this film is really about Ben Randall and Jake Fischer as the mentor trains his replacement in one of the most dangerous of all resuce professions. Each has an internal vault where he locks away deep-rooted pain so that it 'cannot affect him'. Cracking these safes will, however, be critical to their futures, if they are to have one at all. Their interaction and development of mutual respect and then admiration makes for an excellent case study in relationship development. Ashton Kutcher was perfectly cast as the guy who flirts with a Dr. Jeckyll-Mr. Hyde personality. On the one hand he's trying to be the class stud, and on the other hand, he's perfectly capable of blowing off his assignments at the base to spend the night with his new girlfriend. The dynamics between these two sides must play out for him to ever grow past them.

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Mr. Kutcher has a punkish side to him that allows him to carry this role without taking himself too seriously or not seriously enough. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner, who must have been wearing aging make-up because he still looks a good 10 years younger than he is, seemed to borrow a bit from Crash Davis, Robin of Locksley, The Postman, and, of course, The Mariner to create his multi-layered, love of the sea comes first, Ben Randall. He doesn't, in other words, have to break too much new ground in the way of his acting to play this role well. Unlike some of his predecessor instructors like an Officer and a Gentleman's Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.), Randall is still actively in the game, or he perceives himself to be anyway. So, this bonds him more closely with the candidates and has him doing things like hopping into the hypothermia tank with them. This makes him seem less like a shock-and-awe instructor and more like a guy who really cares. In the end, Mr. Kutcher and Mr. Costner deliver credible performances and develop their characters quite well.

There are no problems with pace in this film that exceeds the two our mark by a full fifteen minutes, but there is something that will seem repetitive. It might be that it seems that nearly every rescue mission they take on is a sinking ship. Or it might be that some of the bits of the relationship between Jake and Emily seem swiped right out of Top Gun—though instead of being an instructor at the academy, she's an elementary school teacher. Ah yes, there are a number of borrowed plot elements. Nonetheless, The Guardian, is a very good film. It does a lot of things better than its predecessors that would have made them even better films. It also proves that that very good movies about the military can be made without having to create fake enemies which inadvertently cast aspersions onto other cultures or nations. The film focuses on the saving aspect of the job of the military vs. the aggressive aspects. One of the things that more writers and directors need to consider is the power of the internal struggle as a source of conflict in films rather than the struggle to dominate or assert strength over others. It was the message brought home so brilliantly in the recent Jet Li film Fearless. One has no greater enemy than the one within oneself.

Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring The Guardian (2006) Cast Members
Kevin CostnerAshton KutcherSela WardMelissa SagemillerClancy BrownJohn HeardNeal McDonoughBrian GeraghtyDulé HillShelby FennerPeter Gail
Other Projects Involving The Guardian (2006) Director
Andrew Davis
Other Projects Involving The Guardian (2006) Music by
Trevor Rabin


The Guardian (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
This long-overdue tribute to the United States Coast Guard comes in the form of Fugitive director, Andrew Davis's new film, The Guardian. Nicely divided into three main acts: introductions-- Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) as a career Rescue Swimmer who gets dumped by his wife, loses his crew in an accident, and gets reassigned to teach at the Rescue Swimmer A School; the class--a formulaic sequence remniscent of Top Gun and Annapolis where a new class of Rescue Swimmer candidates featuring Ashton Kutcher as star candidate Jake Fischer, encounter no nonsense instructor who takes the attitude of "prove you deserve to serve" as opposed to the kinder, two strikes and your out policy; reconciliation--where Ben apologizes to his wife and Jake takes to the open water. Briskly paced with a lot to soak in, the film succeeds despite its countless borrowed elements. Costner and Kutcher make for a great pair.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thought this was an all-right movie, ashton kutcher is kinda weak..... but what about shelby fenner???? AMAZING! give her the oscar for this one. i saw an awesome article (and pics) of her in the latest issue of toro magazine. check it out @