In partnership with

The Guardian

2006-12-31 11:13

In the US Coast Guard, Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is a living legend. One of the most decorated rescue swimmers in the force, Randall has saved hundreds of people from the jaws of the icy Bering Sea. But when a freak accident destroys a helicopter and kills his crew, Ben is forced to spend some time away from active duty. He is sent to teach at Guard’s "A" School, where prospective rescue swimmers are rigorously tested and trained. His harsh and unorthodox training methods quickly make him enemies, including a cocky young trainee named Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher). As the training wears on Ben and Jake gradually earn each other’s respect, and eventually become both friends and colleagues.


The Guardian is a film with a bit of an inferiority complex. Like the coast guard itself, it seems painfully aware that many people don’t take it as seriously as other branches of the military because it isn’t, as the lead character says, “combat oriented”. And so it overcompensates, turning what could have been a tight little movie about often ignored heroes into a bloated quasi-military epic.

The problem isn’t so much that the movie regurgitates clichés – most military movies do – it’s the sheer volume of the platitudes that eventually drags it under. At nearly two and half hours long there’s time to throw in any and every cliché in the book - and they do. The mean drill sergeant, the strong-willed love interest, the wimpy friend, the bar fight, the haunted past, the heroic sacrifice – they’re all there and more.

Even when the movie strays away from bromides into – gasp – genuine emotion, it overwhelms us with the sheer number of subplots and chapters. Do we really need to see the love interests of both men played out in such detail? Do the haunted past and the heroic final mission really belong in one movie? If this was all original material, it might be more forgivable, but the movie takes too much time over ground we’ve already seen hundreds of times before.

And yet it isn’t all bad. The rescue sequences, in particular, are stirring stuff. You get a real taste of just how brave these men and women have to be – leaping out of helicopters into the frozen ocean with little more than a wetsuit and some flippers. It’s also nice to be able to enjoy heroism without any moral ambiguities. The lack of violence or a need for enemies makes this a kind of low-cal military movie – all the taste without any of the guilt.

The acting is also surprisingly good, with both Costner and Kutcher putting in credible performances. The maturity and authority of Kutcher’s tough-guy persona is particularly unexpected. He’s always had a talent for playing idiots and smug punks, but here he actually shows some spine for once. Costner is as grizzled and blunt headed as always, playing the same battered loner he perfected in his decade in the wilderness of box-office flops. It may not be Oscar winning stuff, but it’s nice to see him back to what he’s good at.

If you’re a fan of stirring, sentimental hero stories then you could do worse than The Guardian. It’s well put together and, despite all the clichés, often exciting and even moving. It’s just a pity that it devotes so much time to stuff we’ve already seen before, and so little to the real heroes whose stories it claims to tell.

- Alistair Fairweather
Kevin Costner whips Ashton Kutcher into shape in this hero-worshipping tale about coastguard rescue swimmers. I'll have extra testosterone with that, please.

Fred 2006/11/01 12:01 PM
It sucked Coast guard swimmers? Please! This was just another rehash of the same old military balls they keep spewing out. What a waste of 30 bucks.
Samantha 2006/11/08 11:34 AM
Lighten up To everyone out there that has so much to say about the Coast guard swimmers - Id love to see you rescue anyone (you'd probably need to be rescued). It was a brilliant movie, with awesome rescue scenes and an interesting story behind it. So what about the cliches - aren't those normally the best movies anyway?! I give it a definite TWO thumbs up!!
james vivier 2006/11/16 11:02 AM
guardian in the class of dances with wolfes
Laura 2007/04/05 6:25 AM
Perfect=] Fred- I'd like to see you go do what those coast guard swimmers do. STFU, you don't know what you're talking about at all! I just bought the movie on DVD. It's a great movie, and kevin costner & Ashton kutcher put on perfect performances
joey 2007/06/20 2:42 AM
well done what a courageous bunch, these coast guard swimmers. its a good thing they get acknowledged in such a magnificent movie. the rescue scenes are riveting. well done!!
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.