First off, let me please applaud the producers and the entire cast and crew of this movie, for shining a light on a group of truly unsung heroes. In the movie, there are some key differences between the Navy and the Coast Guard highlighted that make this movie a nice tribute to Coast Guard Swimmers.
Now, for the movie as it stands as a movie. Not very well, or shall I say about as well as a seasick landlubber who has yet to find his sea-legs. It pains me to have to say that, it really does. Even though I was never a Coastie or a Navy-type (I served 9 years in the Army), I really wanted this movie to work on all levels. I watched it with my children, and they are tremendous fans of the movie. Perhaps that’s my problem. I wanted this movie to be enjoyed by people of all ages, however, it was just too predictible.
Ok, so as I write this, I can see that perhaps I need to separate my thoughts between storyline (which desperately needed a water rescue of it’s own), and the technical aspects of the film. Let me start with the storyline, so we can then move to something more positive.
The story has a solid premise. An elite squad of rescue swimmers, known as Coast Guard Swimmers, live by a motto they hold dear: “So that others may live”. The story centers around a rugged rescuer named Ben Randall, played rather well by Kevin Costner (Silverado, The Bodyguard). As Costner has come back to acting in his last few movies, this is no exception. He carries the role of the salty, brooding Coastie with conviction. Randall can’t imagine a life without the Coast Guard, and rescuing people is what he loves to do. So much, so, his marriage is starting to crumble.
As Randall is a living legend among rescue swimmers, an accident during an open-sea rescue leaves him as an instructor at the “A School” where budding rescue swimmers train to be part of the elite. Enter a young idealistic (and motivated) Jake “Fish” Fischer, played by Ashton Cutcher (The Butterfly Effect, Dude Where’s My Car?). There’s nothing an old-veteran can’t stand more than a young, green, motivated buck like “Fish”. As I’ve seen Cutcher in Butterfly Effect and was quite impressed with his performance, after seeing him in The Guardian, I am convinced this lad can act!
Sidenote: It would almost be worth discussing a theory where in real life as Cutcher is idealistic, young, and motivated to be great, Costner is being challenged to keep up and therefore brings out some of his best acting in decades. What a parallel to the movie’s story, and one worth considering, but I digress.
As the characters become fleshed out and we start to see their vulneralbilities, it starts to create a contrast of light and dark, where their mutual desire to save lives is overshadowed by their unhappy personal pasts that they are desperately trying to compensate for. All this creates is a beast that cannot be fed enough guilt and will continue to consume, unless a breakthough can occur.
Again, the story had some real promise, however, the love or anti-love aspect of the usual “it’s lonely being a hero” has been done to death, and I was rather hoping for a fresh take on this. In fact any love scenes between Fish and his love interest are just downright frustrating to watch. It almost had An Officer And A Gentleman feel to it, but I stress the word almost.
Where there is real emotion is in the scene between Randal and his new ex-wife, Helen, played by the always beautiful Sela Ward (The Fugitive, Sisters). That is probably the one scene where you really feel the pain of heartbreak, and it doesn’t come off as being contrived.
Where we start entering to usual charted waters is during the emotional breakthrough between Randall and Fish. With trite lines like, “I’ve been trying to figure you out, and for the life of me, I can’t seem to get through.” Uh, why? Why would an instructor be trying to figure someone out when at the beginning of the training school, that same crusty instructor works very hard to weed out the no-can-do’s. In fact, up to the point of that line, all Fish did wrong was show up late after having an all-nighter with his love-interest in the film. But, lines like that need to be said, to set up for some emotional scenes that follow.
And that is precisely my point. It’s like everything is staged and forced, and only the acting of Costner and Cutcher can even make it watchable. In fact, I will not give away the rest of the movie, but I won’t need to, because if you’re like me, you will feel that as you watch this movie, you’ve already seen it. Perhaps under a different title with different actors, but this movie will give you an unshakable case of deja-vu.
Now to the technical aspects of the film. The effects are first rate, and with some night-time rescue scenes in rough seas with storms and lightning, this film does it and does it good! The lighting is well done in either daylight or night scenes, and the sound quality is on par with some of the better productions of it’s rivals.
The Guardian is not an awful film, it just didn’t have me jumping in my seat, which is what I was hoping for. The kids loved it and that’s a good thing. It’s nice to be able to show them a movie where saving lives is heroic, instead of the usual war movie, where they depict taking lives as being glamourous and studly.
This is one of those movies, where I couldn’t see recommending it, but also wouldn’t advise that you steer clear from it, either. If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.
The Guardian on DVD here