“The Guardian” at its best when it’s wet
What could really have saved “The Guardian” is better editing. What’s with Hollywood making movies that go well beyond the two hour mark? Any good journalism professor could tell you, there is beauty in brevity. Part of the problem: “The Guardian” tries to be too many movies: Part sea rescue adventure, part military training brief, part romance, part edgy older guy/upstart buddy film, part teacher/student fable… You get the picture.
Even those who knock the formulaic story have to concede that the Coast Guard is one branch of the military that has been given short shrift by Hollywood, and deserves a good movie. “The Guardian” certainly isn’t the be-all end-all treatise the brave search and rescue swimmers could hope for, but it’s a decent, occasionally thrilling primer.
Kevin Costner is Ben Randall, a veteran Rescue Swimmer with a sterling reputation. When he loses his team in a daring rescue in the Bering Sea, he reluctantly agrees to take some time away from the action by serving as an instructor in the Coast Guard’s elite “A-School” training program. Enter greenie student, the cocky Jake Fischer (Aaron Kutcher), a celebrated swim star in high school who may be running from a dark past.
Until this point, the film borrows heavily from “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Top Gun,” but those films are both over 20 years old, and this generation could use a film that contains some thrilling sea rescues, fascinating military drills, and the ever-endearing Costner.
You may never have wondered how the Coast Guard can train its rescuers to fearlessly plunge into frigid waters and battle 40-foot swells. But the training regimen and engrossing rescue scenes in “The Guardian” convince you that these swimmers are every bit as prepared and brave as firefighters who rush into burning buildings, or infantry men on ambush patrol.
When “The Guardian” strays from its primary mission, it struggles. On the one hand Kutcher handles the lightweight material he’s given, and though he plays an arrogant hotshot student, he can bring the right level of vulnerability when the moment demands. In other words, he might drown in meatier material, but in this role he’s watchable. His perfunctory romance with the local bar flit (Melissa Sagemiller) only serves to distract, but perhaps the mandatory casual sex/dating optional concept is just too out there for us baby boomers.
Randall’s wife is played by Sela Ward, who once again is cast as the teary-eyed forgotten housewife. (As if!) Their failing relationship teases more than it teaches us about the characters. Costner and Ward are good onscreen together; a serious relationship movie involving these two would have merit.
But the biggest faux paux of “The Guardian” is the confusing ebb and flow of its multiple endings. Grasping for closure or some kind of grandiose statement, the final 30 minutes feel dishonest to the tone of the rest of the movie, and especially the integrity of Randall’s character. Unsure of itself, its finale is somewhat ambiguous. This is not the kind of film where audience discussion over the ending is a good thing.
Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, salty language and implied sex.