Genre: Adventure and Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.
Release Date: September 29th, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Andrew Davis Actors: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Omari Hardwick, Alex Daniels
en Randall (Kevin Costner) is the most decorated member of the United States Coast Guard. He’s saved countless people throughout his lengthy career, but after a tragic accident kills his entire crew and his partner, Randall is on the brink of mental defeat and retirement. But his superior (a stern Clancy Brown as Captain Hadley) insists that he transfer to “A” School as an instructor for the elite rescue swimmer training course, rather than giving up completely.
At first, his unorthodox teaching methods and harsh expulsion policies cause unrest among both his fellow instructors and his strong-willed students – especially his most promising pupil, Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher). In time, however, he’ll garner their respect and admiration with his unwavering devotion to the Coast Guard and its cause. At the same time, haunted by his mysterious past, Jake emboldens his determination, refusing to quit no matter how physically or emotionally demanding the challenges to which Randall subjects him. As their training reaches an end, student and teacher come to realize that there is little difference between them. Both have a passion for saving lives, but are troubled by former tragedies; they each know what it is like to lose someone close.
Both Costner and Kutcher’s performances shine through the largely clichéd plot to create a far more believable and emotional journey. Even if audiences can guess as to what is going to happen, it’s still fun to see these opposing characters interact – first as stringent teacher and rebellious student, then as friends and partners in life-threatening rescue missions. Costner is perfect as the bitter instructor who demands nothing less than perfection from his students, while Kutcher does a fine job as the cocky student who expects nothing less from himself. An agreeable mixture of action and drama fuel the film, while plenty of humorous moments break up the tenseness, most notably during a pick-up scene involving the beautiful Emily (Melissa Sagemiller), and during an unexpected bar fight – with even less anticipated results.
The special effects in “The Guardian” are invaluable, as they embellish – or create – an atmosphere of realism, with stormy waves and harrowing currents, which wouldn’t be possible for actual filming. Reminiscent of “The Perfect Storm,” but infinitely more refined, the CG blends seamlessly with the sets to shape thoroughly convincing action sequences (the climax is specifically orchestrated within the Bering Straits). Helicopters explode, monstrous swells crash, and thrashing victims sink into murky depths – all with an immediacy and a gravity not regularly depicted to such a persuasive degree.
The conflicts within “The Guardian” arise and resolve exactly as one might expect. Love is found and lost, and then found again; respect is earned, trust is gained, and unbreakable bonds are formed; and heroic deeds are trumped by even more selfless actions. Viewers have seen this kind of film before, but the solid performances, gripping adventure, and emotional power create a journey few would mind taking again. It’s a perilous yet highly rewarding world of loss and sacrifice and salvation; but the chemistry of the two leads also generates a great sense of hope and of satisfaction, even if the conclusion is overly formulaic and the scripting routinely cautious.
– Joel Massie