The Guardian Gives a Noble Face to the Coast Guard
by Dave Minkus
September 29, 2006
Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is a Coast Guard rescue diver in Alaska. He isn't just any diver, though. He is the most decorated diver in history. Depending on who you talk to, he's saved 200-300 people in his career. That success didn't come without a price, however. To say his marriage is troubled is an understatement. He lost his entire crew on his last mission. Just when it seems things can't get worse, he's assigned to teach a class in Louisiana. He decides that if he is going to train this crop of recruits, he's going to push them and make them prepared to go into action as soon as they graduate. Among the recruits is a swim star with a chip on his shoulder (Ashton Kutcher).
If this sounds like a formulaic plot, it is. It doesn't matter in this case, though. The Guardian is really about the mindset of the Coast Guard divers. In Top Gun, Tom Cruise is an arrogant jerk and is essentially praised for being cocky, but The Guardian really pounds home the need to have a mindset that you put others before yourself, even if it costs your life. You have to always be in the best shape of your life, be willing to undergo hypothermic conditions for 60% of your career, face the fact that you will probably die, get paid next to nothing, and you have to fight for the honor and privilege to do so. When that is the point of the movie, who really cares if the plot is a formula that you can see coming a mile away?
The performances in this film really focus on the above mindset. After a Costner barrage in the 90's (the worst part being dragged to Dances With Wolves four times in the theater), I have been burnt out on Mr. Costner's work. This film made me remember why I enjoy his work, though. Kevin Costner plays the man with convictions who doesn't particularly care what other people think. While the new recruits see him as a man who is tough as nails and out to kill every one of them initially, the ones who make it through the program learn where that attitude comes from, and that discovery really adds heart to this film. If Ashton Kutcher keeps taking roles like the ones in The Guardian and The Butterfly Effect, he is really going to establish himself as a great actor. The fact that he has moved on successfully from the role of Kelso in "That 70's Show" really is a testament to his acting chops. He doesn't go from cocky jock to understanding what it means to be a diver as quickly as Anakin switched from the light to the dark side, and that's a wonderful thing. The fact that the characters have several layers that are exposed very deliberately is a credit to the film.
While the actors add quite a bit to the film, credit also deservedly goes to director Andrew Davis. His commitment to making this film feel real from the training to the real life missions adds a layer of realism that lends credibility to how seriously Ben takes his job. There weren't any tricky camera shots that pull you out of the film. Every shot was composed just as it needed to be and let the audience enjoy the story.
Sometimes, the highest praise you can give a movie is to say that you forget you're watching actors, and that is certainly true of The Guardian. This film doesn't set itself in the category of early Oscar contenders is because it doesn't care about awards or glory. There is an important and inspirational story to be told, and that is all that The Guardian is concerned with. Hollywood would do well to produce more of these films. Artsy and technical films are also important, but if the audience I saw this with is any indication, America wants more movies like The Guardian.
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