After losing his crew in a fatal crash, legendary Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Costner) is sent to teach
“A” school, an elite training program for Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. Wrestling with the loss of his crew members, he throws himself into teaching, turning the program upside down with his unorthodox training methods. At the school, Randall encounters a young, cocky swim champ, Jake Fischer (Kutcher), who is driven to be the best. During training Randall helps mold Jake’s character, combining his raw talent with the heart and dedication required of a Rescue Swimmer. Upon graduation, Jake follows Randall to Kodiak, Alaska, where they face the inherent dangers of the Bering Sea. In his initial solo rescue, Jake learns firsthand from Randall the true meaning of heroism and sacrifice, echoing the Swimmer’s motto… “So Others May Live!”
The Guardian Main Cast
... Ben Randall
... Jake Fischer
... Helen Randall
... Emily Thomas
... Capt. William Hadley
... Capt. Frank Larson
... Jack Skinner
... Billy Hodge
... Ken Weatherly
... Cate Lindsey
... Maggie McGlone
First of all when we screened the film, our expectations were for an adequate, if conventional, story and strong performances and chemistry from the actors. In large part, The Guardian delivered. As the film begins, we're introduced to veteran rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Costner), who is stationed in Kodiac. It doesn't take long for his decision to rescue one more soul to end in a tragic accident for his own Coast Guard crew. After he recovers, he's ordered to go teach at "A" school as a kind of sabbatical to deal with the accident. Once there, he butts heads with the instructors over changing their training routine. He also finds that one of his students, Jake Fischer, seems to more interested in breaking his own records than learning to save lives. The film treats us to two or three (we lost track) short frenetic montages that fast-forwarded the story through much of the training. These scenes were the only times where our attention waned because it was so hard to follow the action.
Of course, the instructors come to respect Randall's unconventional training exercises and Fischer finally faces up to the real reason he chose to be a rescue swimmer. Along the way, we're treated to character moments that arely mostly well-done and rarely over-the-top. Whereas most films would be satisfied to end there at roughly one hundred minutes, The Guardian has one issue left. Can Randall "get back in the saddle?" Fischer joins him at Kodiac and the torch is completely passed to Fischer. It's done so in a way that Fischer is not only destined to equal or exceed Randall's skill as a rescue swimmer, but to make better choices concerning his personal life than Randall did. Though we would have preferred a different final resolution to Randall's character, it ultimately fit the storyline. One final positive commment is that the film treats the Coast Guard with respect and doesn't fall into cardboard caricatures. The end credits feature a montage of Coast Guard photographs.
Now for a couple of relatively minor criticisms. What we saw as the the major weakness
of the story was the (lack of a developed) relationship between Fischer and Emily (Melissa Sagemiller), the young schoolteacher. She's smart and independent and in their initial meeting, she sees right through him and yet basically falls for him (mostly off-screen) in their second encounter. The film almost immediately assumes depth to their relationship though we don't get a chance to see it. What saves this plot point and even had us routing for them was the chemistry between Kutcher and Sagemiller. They seem at ease with each other and convincingly flirt like a pair of giddy teenagers. We actually wished that more scenes between them could have been worked into the film. One other minor quibble is a great deal of the story gets kick-started by a somewhat contrived scenario at a steakhouse, which apparently is no ordinary steakhouse. These weaknesses do not heavily detract from the overall film, which we found enjoyable throughout even as it clocked in over two hours.
The DVD includes a handful of features, which include an alternate ending. Though we didn't like the ending for the film, this alternate ending is actually worse as it supplies a contrived happy ending. The four deleted scenes include two between Fischer and Emily which showcase their chemistry especially in one that was mostly improvised. The other two extras include a standard Making Of featurette and a tribute to the Real Life Coast Guard swimmers. The audio commentary is pretty good. Listening to it helped fill in some of the blanks of background material that was cut due to time. Two of the most interesting bits were that the training montages included stolen footage from a pre-production boot camp and how the production was affected byHurricane Katrina.
The Guardian DVD Extras:
- Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Davis & Writer Ron Brinkerhoff
- Alternate Ending with Introduction by Director Andrew Davis (3:03)
- Four Deleted Scenes with optional audio commentary by Davis & Brinkerhoff (6:55)
- Making Waves (11:05) - Making Of
- Unsung Heroes (5:34) - Tribute to the Real-life Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers Buy The Guardian DVD Now!