The Guardian (2006) / Drama-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some violence
Running Time: 136 min.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, John Heard, Neal McDonough, Melissa Sagemiller, Brian Geraghty, Sela Ward, Clancy Brown
Director: Andrew Davis
Screenplay: Ron L. Brinkerhoff
Review published October 5, 2006
Kevin Costner (Rumor Has It, The Upside of Anger) stars as Ben Randall, a Coast Guard swimmer who has dedicated his life to saving others in the ocean in need, at the cost of his wife (Ward, The Day After Tomorrow) and home life. He then loses the rest of his crew at sea, and until his head gets screwed on right, he is sent away to teach rescue training at a Coast Guard facility. His methods are very uncouth to the rest of the trainers, but they get the job done, although there is one particular trainee that he just doesn't seem to get -- all-pro swimming champ Jake Fischer (Kutcher, Open Season). Randall wants to get the best men possible, but Fischer's stubbornness threatens the integrity of the group. In order to work as a team, both men need to come to terms with what is really motivating them.
Although The Guardian is, in most likelihood, a thinly-veiled Coast Guard recruitment video masquerading as a full-length major motion picture release, that's not to say it isn't also entertaining in its own fashion. The creators of the film seek to do for the Coast Guard what Top Gun did for the Navy, and perhaps to impressionable young minds seeing this in their teenage years, it does manage to be successful in that regard. While Top Gun did overly glamorize the military experience, The Guardian makes no bones about the difficulties and dangers of being in the Coast Guard, although it does gloss over some of the less sexy things in favor of sheer adventure and rescue missions. Perhaps it isn't interesting to show the Coast Guard performing routine Homeland Security searches of cargo ships, while gearing up for the possible terrorist attacks in the nation's harbors, which is likely the reason the film is made to begin with.
The Guardian is clichéd and manipulative to a large extent, but it somehow manages to hit the right notes at the right times to maintain a level of interest in what happens. Costner and Kutcher are about as tarnished in the realm of acting as the Coast Guard is in that of the US's defense organizations, but due to their fine performances here, they all manage to come out ahead. As long as you realize that the main impetus of the film is to gain the respect and interest in the Coast Guard to the young men and women that might view this, you will probably be in the right mindset to accept the fact that all they are doing is tooting their own horn here (to no one's surprise, the Coast Guard have officially endorsed the film).
Perhaps the only major gripe I have with the film as a whole is the fact that it extends well over the two hour mark in order to tell its rather simple story. There are at least three lengthy rescue missions depicted, each very impressive in their stunt work and cinematography, but for some reason, they aren't nearly as engaging as the training sequences of the young men and women in between. Trimming those down and excising the entire "unloved wife" and "casual girlfriend" subplots could have made this a tighter, more exciting film. As it stands, it has its moments, perhaps enough to entertain most audiences interested in the subject matter, but it doesn't carry the energy into making the film as a whole as truly forceful as it could have been.
Overdone in certain respects, and underdeveloped in other, The Guardian is far from perfect. However, when it does work, it works well, touching all of the required bases in order to pay homage to the men and women of the Coast Guard, restoring its reputation in the minds of anyone that views the film that it is much more than a place to avoid more dangerous military service. While the reason behind the creation of the film may involve a concerted effort to beef up harbor security and anti-terrorist sea craft searches by fostering interest in joining, this potential dirty little secret probably won't stand in the way of more casual viewers (i.e. ones that have no interest in joining the Guard no matter how exciting they deem to make it appear) enjoying the results.
©2006 Vince Leo