April 27, 2006 -- “The Guardian” is a standard-issue movie about military-style training, heroism, romance and camaraderie, along the lines of “Men of Honor,” “Annapolis,” “Top Gun,” “G.I. Jane” and movies of that ilk. The difference is that this one is about people who are trained how to save lives instead of how to take lives. It is a movie about the Coast Guard, a branch of the military seldom seen in the movies. During and immediately after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, most federal agencies failed to do much to help survivors except one, the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard rescued thousands of people from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. While other federal agencies floundered in bureaucratic red tape, the Coast Guard simply let their rescue crews do their jobs, and excercise their best judgement, and they performed heroically. Why this happened, when so many others failed, is explained in this movie.
Kevin Costner (“The Upside of Anger”) stars as Ben Randall, an aging rescue swimmer who is a legend in the Coast Guard for his daring rescue missions. After one such mission turns into a disaster, he is injured and ordered to a teaching position at the Coast Guard Academy until he heals sufficiently to return to duty. While teaching, he encounters a young cadet, Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher of “A Lot Like Love”) who reminds him of himself. Something about the young man doesn't add up, so he digs deeper and finds a secret about the young man's past which explains a lot.
A good chunk of this long movie (136 minutes) is made up of training sequences, including a lot of standard montages. While some of the training is very similar to that of other military services, some is unique, like pushing a cement block across the bottom of a swimming pool. I found a lot of this training interesting because I really did not know much about the Coast Guard before watching this movie (interestingly though, I read that a Coast Guard pilot recently boarded the International Space Station for a tour of duty).
Along with the training stuff, there are some romantic subplots about Randall's breakup with his wife (played by Sela Ward of “The Day After Tomorrow”) and Fischer's romance with a local girl, Emily Thomas (Melissa Sagemiller), which is straight out of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Of course there are some rescue scenes, too. These are well-staged using state of the art special effects to make them look real. None of this, including the somewhat disappointing, clichéd ending, is very surprising since it is heavily borrowed from other movies of this type. There is a slight supernatural twist at the end which is surprising, but it is a very tiny part of the movie.
The movie is a bit overlong and it has a few too many endings, but it is well-crafted, well-acted by a strong cast, and the rescue scenes are very realistic looking. It is a bit above average for this kind of film. I couldn't help but admire the film's noble spirit, which is sorely lacking in most movies. This film is about people who would lay down their lives to save complete strangers. That kind of nobility is of Biblical proportions. This film rates a C+.
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