Review by Paul Stathakis | 2006

Drowns in melodrama

Ben Ran­dall (Kevin Cost­ner) is con­sid­ered a leg­endary U.S. Coast Guard res­cue swim­mer and in the open­ing min­utes of “The Guardian” we wit­ness his endow­ment.  Not only does he save lives but risks his own to do so each time he is called on a res­cue mis­sion.  When one dar­ing mis­sion leaves a boy and his part­ner dead, Ben is advised to take some time off and, instead, instruct the next gen­er­a­tion of Coast Guards.  He hes­i­tant­ly accepts the teach­ing posi­tion and is told he can return to being a full-time Coast Guard once he has ful­ly recov­ered from the trag­ic event.

Ben’s teach­ing method is a reflec­tion of his atti­tude — seri­ous and strict – almost like spend­ing a week at boot camp.  He puts his stu­dents through intense work­out ses­sions.  In between exer­cis­es, he bless­es them with his knowl­edge.  His philoso­phies are accen­tu­at­ed on the themes of courage, being a mir­a­cle at age 24, and sac­ri­fice.  The film’s poster high­lights the Cost Guard men­tal­i­ty: “When lives are on the line, sac­ri­fice everything.”

Among the dozen or so of Ben’s stu­dents is a young, hand­some, brash, and con­fi­dent man — Jake Fis­ch­er (Ash­ton Kutch­er).  He is a mod­ern ver­sion of Mav­er­ick (Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”) in the way he shoots his mouth off about his inten­tions to break records.  But he lat­er real­izes that his real pur­pose is not to break records but to learn.  Ben and Jake are the main char­ac­ters of the movie and the film is cen­tered on their chem­istry.  They become good friends, to the point where Ben vis­its a bar and set­tles a score with an army man to show Jake just how much he cares about him.

When the train­ing is com­plet­ed, Jake asks Ben a chal­leng­ing ques­tion: “How do you decide who lives and who dies?”  Ben answers in a way we expect a vet­er­an Coast Guard to reply.  He explains how he looks for the weak­est per­son and then swims to them as fast and hard as he can.  Of course, Ben is trou­bled by the boy and friend he couldn’t save and these loss­es stay with him, even when he is on duty with Jake.

The Guardian was direct­ed by Andrew Davis – a direc­tor who is expe­ri­enced in the action genre.  Some of his oth­er fea­tures include “Under Siege” (1992), “The Fugi­tive” (1993), and “Col­lat­er­al Dam­age” (2002).  I recall being on the edge of my seat dur­ing “The Fugi­tive” and there are ade­quate moments in “The Guardian” where I was on the edge again.  Even though a num­ber of the action scenes were cre­at­ed by a spe­cial effects team, the com­put­er work is scarce­ly evi­dent.  The stormy waters are spec­tac­u­lar to look at espe­cial­ly when the char­ac­ters drop into them.

Ash­ton Kutch­er under­takes his sec­ond dra­mat­ic role since “The But­ter­fly Effect” (2004) and by now it should be clear to him that he belongs in this genre.  Kutch­er is a charis­mat­ic actor and, like Ben Affleck in “Hol­ly­wood­land” (2006), his per­for­mance is one of this year’s biggest rev­e­la­tions.  One per­sua­sive moment that stands out is when Ben and Jake dis­cuss the pain of los­ing a friend. Kevin Cost­ner is equal­ly win­ning in the role of an expe­ri­enced res­cue swim­mer.  Cost­ner is known for play­ing sto­ic parts and The Guardian should be remem­bered as one of his most sin­cere per­for­mances.  Because the actors are attached to the sto­ry, they work well togeth­er and their rela­tion­ship is cred­i­ble.  There is not a moment we don’t care about them.

The Guardian” could be seen as a rehash of oth­er navy films such as “An Offi­cer and a Gen­tle­man” (1982), “Top Gun” (1986) or the recent “Annapo­lis” (2006).  No one should make the mis­take of walk­ing into “The Guardian” and expect­ing to watch a dif­fer­ent adven­ture movie.  But it is supe­ri­or to “Annapo­lis” with a stronger cast and script — and it even comes close to being as fun as “Top Gun” (a rare feat in view of today’s cinema.)

The film’s main flaw sur­faces in the third act when the film car­ries view­ers to a dra­mat­ic con­clu­sion that is more upset­ting than it is touch­ing.  The Guardian feels a need to end on a melo­dra­mat­ic note and the result is like watch­ing a delet­ed scene from anoth­er navy movie.  Melo­dra­ma can work in cer­tain sce­nar­ios, espe­cial­ly when it is antic­i­pat­ed.  Think “The God­fa­ther” (1972), “Leg­ends of the Fall” (1994) and “Armaged­don” (1998) to name a few exam­ples.  But many may be shocked by how sud­den “The Guardian” switch­es moods.  The end­ing is not jus­ti­fi­able and view­ers are left in the dark, divided.


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