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the guardian The Guardian
Directed by:
Andrew Davis
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutchner, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown

Written by:
Ricardo Barberini

January 29, 2007

This is a gripping story about the heroic life of the US Coast Guard which often goes underreported.  Those men and women put their lives on the line almost everyday of the year to save other people’s lives.  In a way they are very similar to the firemen.  They are there to save lives.


There are some differences.  The firemen have other responsibilities such as preventing spread of fire and they operate on land.  The Coast Guard is a military order and is responsible for the national defense, maritime law enforcement and search and rescue operations.

Andrew Davis who directed this movie is quite experienced in making scenic adventure movies such as Collateral Damage (2002) and Holes (2003.)  Here he excels in producing claustrophobic effects with the aid of veteran cameraman turned cinematographer Stephen St. John.  Many of the external scenes were shot indoors in Elizabeth City, North Carolina which is also the home of the US Coast Guard Air Station, where Rescue Swimmers receive their training.  Instead of focusing on roaring planes and the helicopters he focuses on the tale of a few men and what makes them tick.  The director concentrates on the Rescue Swimmers who are the rarest of the rare.  As the movie states there are only a few hundred men and women who actually are willing and can qualify to become Rescue Swimmers in the Coast Guard.

The story revolves around the careers of two men; one Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is an older man who is one of the best Swimmers in the Coast Guard.  He has set records on the number of people that he has saved from certain death by drowning.  The story picks up during his latest rescue effort.  Due to a mishap he loses his buddies and the crew of the rescue helicopter.  He is rescued from the icy seas off Alaska and sent to a training academy in Louisiana as a senior instructor to recuperate.

There we meet the other man.  He is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) who is part of a group of highly motivated new recruits.  He is arrogant and selfish and soon the two men are at loggerheads.  Jake is a not a team player and seems to be in search of glory.  Ben, who is a tough taskmaster, disqualifies almost half of the recruits during the training period.  He also tries to persuade Jake to resign voluntarily. 

Ben digs into Jakes life to see what makes him so conceited and discovers that he was part of a high school championship team from a small town that was involved in a car accident.  Every one except Jake was killed in the crash and it seems that the town folks and the parents of the kids blame him for what happened. The blame is driving him to purge himself of the guilty feelings about the accident and his brashness is the veneer that he is putting on to mask his true feelings.

Once Ben brings the facts to the surface, Jake’s attitude changes and he decides to concentrate on saving lives rather than dwelling about the past.

After graduation, Ben and Jake are assigned to a rescue team in Kodiak Alaska near the Bering Sea.  For those of you who have never been to that part of the world, the sea lanes are treacherous out there.  Fishermen are usually the frequent victims of the sea in that area.  However, there are some weirdo recreational kayakers and sailors who decide to match their wits and courage against mother nature and invariably end up dead or shipwrecked and waste taxpayer dollars in the search and rescue operations.

After the comeback, Ben feels that he has lost it and resigns from the service.  On his first solo rescue mission, Jake is trapped inside a sinking ship and Ben rushes to his rescue.  As they are being pulled up by the cable to the rescue helicopter, Ben notices that the cable is frayed and is about to snap since it cannot carry the weight of two people.  He performs the ultimate sacrifice by releasing his hook and falling into the Ocean below from eighty feet.  Hitting the water from eighty feet high is like jumping off an eight story building. 

The story is about the life of two men.  There are other characters in the movie as well.  Ben has an estranged wife (Sela Ward.)  Ben is deeply in love with her but she is very cold to him even after he leaves the service.  We are not told why she is so ambivalent toward him.  Jake meets this beautiful snooty school teacher who is really an easy lay and he beds her very quickly.  In the end though, he decides to marry her.

Ben Randall is supposed to be a detached solitary man dedicated to his profession above all else.  Kevin Costner plays that role with great aptitude.  The character does not want to be loved by the audience, even though he is a hero and that is how it comes across.  Even when he performs the final sacrifice, he still does it out of his sense of duty more than his friendship for Jake.

Jake with his sunglasses and cold looks is made to look like a brash self confident man.  However, he is supposed to be extremely vulnerable beneath it all. Except that not being a good actor he does not pull if off. He is not capable of showing his troubled inner emotions effectively. Even when they show him crying it seems false.  But then again, if you are tall, handsome and sleep with Demi Moore, then you would get the chance to be movie star.

Melissa Sagemiller as Ashton’s love interest is quite pretty but does not have much room to show any acting ability.  The rather frumpy looking Sela Ward is over painted for her role of a housewife. 

As we mentioned earlier, the story is about the two men.  Now let us turn the clock back to the early eighties.  Taylor Hackford, directed An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) with a similar plot.  This time it was about the a rebellious cocky new recruit (Richard Gere) in the Naval Academy and a tough training Staff Sergeant (Louis Gossette Jr.) who feeling that Richard Gere is not qualified to be a fighter pilot, initially wants him out by making life difficult for him, but at the end comes to his aid and helps him graduate.  In that movie there is also a love interest of unequals between an up and coming officer (Richard Gere) and a lowly mill worker (Debra Winger.)  She is also an easy pickup for the star of the movie but eventually marries him in the final scene where he comes into the mill and physically carries her off.  I am not suggesting that the Guardian’s screenwriter Ron Brinkerhoff borrowed from Douglas Day Stewart’s story or plot, just to say that the story, in a similar fashion, has been told before but the venue is different this time.  Maybe next time it will be turn of the National Guard.

We give this movie starstar.  There are some harrowing scenes and two mild bedroom scenes.  You can probably take the whole family to watch the movie.  . 

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