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After losing his crew in a fatal crash, legendary Rescue Swimmer, Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), is sent to teach at "A" School, an elite training program for Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers, in THE GUARDIAN. Wrestling with the loss of his crew members, he throws himself into teaching, turning the program upside down with his unorthodox training methods.
While there, he encounters a young, cocky swim champ, Jake Fischer (Ashton 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.
For more about The Guardian and The Guardian Blu-ray release, see The Guardian Blu-ray Review
Starring: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Dule Hill
Director: Andrew Davis
» See full cast & crew
The Guardian Blu-ray Review
"I swim as fast as I can for as long as I can, and the sea takes the rest."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 21, 2009
The Guardian is a dad movie. Meaning, it falls into that genre of film that is almost universally beloved by fathers—the inspirational hero story, about men who put their lives on the line for their families, country and countrymen, tales of honor and courage and duty. More specifically, when I think of dad films, I think of movies that my father likes: Braveheart and The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator. These are feel good films for men, stories that celebrate sacrifice and poeticize the glories of battle. Since literature and film have mythologized war as the greatest testing ground of masculine fortitude, it's unsurprising that the Coast Guard—America's most unheralded military branch—has seen little time on the silver screen. They carry rescue equipment instead of assault rifles, and fight the wind and waves, not guerilla warriors in some dank jungle. At one point in The Guardian, Kevin Costner says, "We're the Coast Guard. No one really appreciates us until they need us." And yet, these men and women are jumping out of helicopters into the frigid, forty-foot swells of the Bering Sea, risking their lives, as their motto goes, "So Others May Live." It's about time, then, that the Coast Guard got a film of their own, and though The Guardian is a fairly entertaining dad flick that examines the unsung heroism of our maritime protectors, it's unfortunately waterlogged with clichés and bloated by an overlong 2 hour and 20 minute run time.
Kevin Costner plays Ben Randall, a renowned rescue swimmer and near legend in Coast Guard lore, who finds himself having a mid-life crisis of confidence after a helicopter accident kills his crew and leaves him stranded in the ocean. Faced with survivor's guilt, an impending divorce from his wife Helen (Sela Ward), and the fact that his body isn't as spry as it once was, Randall's supervising officer Capt. Hadley (Clancy Brown) gives him an ultimatum: tender his resignation or take a teaching post at "A-School," the Coast Guard's training center for rescue swimmers. Randall takes the instructors gig, and The Guardian suddenly becomes an amalgam of Dead Poets Society's textbook-ripping, unconventional inspiration and the royal ass chewing that R. Lee Ermey gives his cadets in Full Metal Jacket, albeit, not nearly as heartfelt or compulsively watch-able as either. The new recruits are a thin cross-section of military stereotypes, led by the cocksure swagger of Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a high school swimming champ with a troubled past. Fischer and Randall butt heads—they're basically younger and older versions of the same stubborn, driven person—and the two develop a father/son-style relationship that, like many, starts with mutual resentment before aging into a kind of distanced affection and respect. Expectedly, the film culminates with a disaster that tests the men's dedication to both one another and the Coast Guard's "so others may life" ethos.
Predictable doesn't even begin to describe the film's standard issue plot, and The Guardian should come with a pop-up video style feature that displays a counter every time the film grabs for another well-worn cliché. Let's see, a man at the end of his career facing his own mortality? Check. A "rogue" teacher who uses "unconventional methods" and doesn't "play by the book?" Check. The young hotshot who wants to outdo his aging mentor? Check. A barroom brawl between rival military branches? Check, check, check. The only original idea The Guardian has going for it is that it's about the Coast Guard. The film even has multiple training montages—"Aw, they went to MTV cam," said my wife—and despite the sped-up sequences, The Guardian sags in the central, instruction-heavy period of its narrative, an action-free space where not much happens at all. Sure, there's a tepid romance between Fischer and schoolteacher Emily Thomas (Melissa Sagemiller), but their casual affair never connects emotionally. There's also a subplot about a cadet who has failed the program two times and finally finds the courage to succeed, but this too only serves to slow down the already molasses- thick story. The film could easily stand to lose a good 25 to 30 minutes, as there are plenty of redundant scenes that only reconfirm that yes, Fischer is an arrogant student, and yes, Randall can't quite figure out what's motivating Fischer to succeed.
Still, for those willing to wade through the tedium, The Guardian has its moments. Kevin Costner is better here than he's been in years, giving a convincing performance as a wearied man who's past his prime but still wants to serve. And though Ashton Kutcher probably wouldn't have been my first pick to play Jake Fischer—he wouldn't have even made the top ten—he's surprisingly adept at this kind of role, despite some goofy mannerisms leftover from his more juvenile, comedic parts. Do you think he Punk'd Kevin Costner on set? Director Andrew Davis, best known for The Fugitive, also turns in three genuinely tense action sequences, and the nighttime rescue scenes are like The Perfect Storm meeting an episode of the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch and having a "scariest wave" competition. The thrilling loneliness of the sea at night is well represented here, so well, in fact, that the rest of the film is downright dull in comparison. And there's the rub. The Guardian doesn't know exactly what it wants to be. Is it a man vs. the elements tale of survival on the high seas? Is it a motivational story about a teacher inspiring his rag-tag bunch of students? Is it a character study? An action flick? There's no reason why The Guardian couldn't have been all of the above, but the film itself seems conflicted about how to balance it all out. The cinematic ingredients are certainly present, but they're simply out of proportion, leaving The Guardian on the lower tier of enjoyable dad films.
The Guardian Blu-ray, Video Quality
While The Guardian won't make waves for must-see picture quality, its 1080p, AVC- encoded transfer is clean, natural and nicely detailed. There's plenty of sharpness in both close-ups and longer shots, with no noticeable signs of edge enhancement. The reds and yellows of rescue equipment pop crisply against the cool tones of the ocean, and both the deep, Bering Sea blues and the lush aquamarines of the A-school's pool are represented vividly. Skin tones too are organic and contrast is tight and even-keeled, though black levels do occasionally crush detail during nighttime scenes. The presentation's biggest drawback seems to be inconsistent levels of grain. While plenty of scenes are clear, the night and underwater sequences get occasionally patchy, and there seems to be a lot of noise in the wispy vapor of cresting waves. The film also switches to video during a training montage, and though this is a stylistic choice, it's jarring and stands out too much for its own good.
The Guardian Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Guardian, as a film, comes in and goes out with a bang, but languishes in the torpor of a sluggish mid-section. The same can be said for the film's uncompressed PCM 5.1 track. The action sequences sound simply fantastic. Helicopter blades beat the air, waves crash convincingly, and explosions ripple outward with a fierce presence. There's plenty of activity in the rear channels— choppers move through the sound field with accurate directionality, waves rush from back to front, and explosions fill the stage with crackling ambience. Have you noticed that my only examples are of helicopters, waves, and explosions? Well, that's pretty much what The Guardian gives you, audio-wise. There's an explosive beginning and a wind-swept, wave-heavy end, but the film's mix peters out during the central training segment. It doesn't sound bad, but just quieter and less engaging. Thankfully, dialogue is sharp and clear, and there was only one instance where I had to volume-boost to hear what was being said.
The Guardian Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by Director Andrew Davis and Writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff
It's tough to do commentary for an almost two and a half hour film, but these two gentlemen give it their best go, covering literally every element of the film's production, from the absolutely essential involvement of the U.S. Coast Guard to the little changes made to the script post- Katrina and the big-budget special effects. Brinkerhoff provides plenty of insight into the characters and story, and Davis offers up lots of "making-of" style comments. Ultimately though, by the two hour mark you'll probably be ready to stop the disc and go outside for a walk or something.
Filmmaker Q & A
In this "enhanced viewing" mode, there's a menu at the bottom of the screen that allows you to select, at any time, questions from five categories: Cast and Characters, Story and Script, On the Set, F/X, and the Coast Guard. There are a total of 48 questions, most of which are answered in the form of audio commentary by the director or the writer, but there are also some video segments that you can select which temporarily interrupt the film. There are also numerous "pop-up" questions, some of which are repeats from the menu, which have to be triggered within a few seconds of their appearance. While there's a lot of good material here, and I appreciate the studio's willingness to try new sorts of bonus features, I found the overall experience to be unintuitive and a little redundant when you consider most of the info is also found in the commentary track.
Do note that this feature is currently only accessible via PS3.
Alternate Ending (1080i, 3:07)
I won't give it away, but the director introduces this alternate take, which was filmed purely, as he puts it, as "as safety valve."
Deleted Scenes (1080p, 7:05)
The disc includes four non-essential deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director and writer.
The Guardian: Making Waves (SD, 11:06)
This fairly standard EPK featurette is elevated by some great behind-the-scenes footage, especially of the wave tank that was constructed for the film and the involvement of real-life Coast Guard members. I do, however, find it a bit hard to believe when the director claims that Ashton Kutcher is "at a level where he could be a US Coast Guard rescue swimmer, without a doubt."
Unsung Heroes: So Other May Live (SD, 5:35)
Featuring interviews with a number of real-life rescue swimmers and pilots, this could have easily been the most interesting supplement on the disc had it not been kept so short. These men and women have some truly amazing stories, and a lengthier documentary would've been appreciated.
The Guardian Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's great to see the Coast Guard get some cinematic appreciation, but The Guardian is ultimately like one of those huge cargo ships—it's overloaded and it goes really, really slow. The film has its fans though—yes, my dad liked it—and this Blu-ray release is by far the best way to watch the film, with some occasionally impressive AV work and an innovative, if cumbersome, Filmmaker Q&A experience.
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