U.S. Release Date: September 29, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Andrew Davis
Producer: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson
Composer: Trevor Rabin
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality)

Coast Guard Drama Gets the Rescue Ethos Right
by Scott Holleran

Don't miss director Andrew Davis's thrilling The Guardian on the big screen. Built on a solid script by Ron L. Brinkerhoff, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher—who proves he can act—lead a strong cast in delivering an action movie with force.

Besides obvious physical dangers, making a live action sea adventure couldn't have been easy and tight budgets and rushed schedules appear to have been a factor. Davis navigates around the obstacles.

Beginning with a reference to sea mythology, The Guardian drops down into the treacherous Bering Sea, where the water moves with the power of Poseidon in a raging fury. Human lives are in peril and that rare type of man—a perfect specimen of athlete, healer and oceanologist—is quickly upon them, willing to go to the ends of the earth to accomplish a rescue. In this case, a woman and her husband are about to go under. Seasoned rescuer Ben (Kevin Costner) is there.

The scene is terrifying, introducing the work of the rescue swimmer, a part of the services of the United States Coast Guard, which fully sanctioned this picture. The Coast Guard earned an excellent reputation long before it became part of the government's new Homeland Security department and this top squad shows why. Training is so grueling that half the recruits quit before it's over.

Director Davis, a former college lifeguard, explores America's post-9/11 respect for rescue professionals and asks why. He knows that, before anyone can really accept the reality of these masculine figures as human, he has to show what moves them to act. In this powerful, emotional drama, he proves that the hero is made, not born.

"Hope don't float," Mr. Costner's Ben instructs a young recruit who sputters some line about hoping to be the best. Looking as handsome in a uniform as he did 19 years ago in No Way Out's crisp white Navy getup, Mr. Costner, crunching Vicodin, spilling hard liquor and groaning over his estranged wife (Sela Ward), does some of his best acting. After Ben is sidelined by an operation gone wrong, he picks up a clipboard to teach the eager guppies at training school.

As his partner in the teacher-student bond, muscle-toned Kutcher, playing Jake the hot shot, matches Mr. Costner toe to toe. The smirking smart aleck is hardly new, and this movie's full of clichés, from the requisite hard rock workout montage to the feisty local love interest, but Davis focuses on these two remarkable men, like passing ships, as gods in progress.

Stationed in Alaska, Ben and Jake are at polar opposite stages among those that study, prepare and practice for crisis at sea. Each procedure, exercise and regimen must bear a plausible application to reality. It isn't just yelling and screaming and it isn't a matter of brute strength, as one student learns.

When the facility's captain (John Heard) asks how one of Ben's ultra-disciplinary lessons teaches the principles of hypothermia, with the cadets quivering in a tub filled with ice cubes, Ben looks at his watch and says: "They'll know them in about two minutes." Intellectual learning is merely implied, to a fault, with later scenes suggesting they could have used a course in diagnosing the emergency.

Other problems include Ben's sudden transition from rescue swimming to school, where he's instantly an ace instructor, and Jake's romantic subplot, which happens too quickly and drags the action, as well as obnoxious camera shots, multiple flashbacks and short cuts. But The Guardian, a worthy successor to Davis's gripping The Fugitive, is rarely less than commanding in its mission to render a tale of two men realizing one heroic ideal.

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