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The Guardian Review

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by AVForums Sep 20, 2007

    The Guardian Review
    The United States Coast Guard is a part of America's armed forces and a law enforcement agency at the same time. It has seven statutory missions including drug enforcement and migration control. Buried among those seven missions is Search and Rescue. Often dangerous and non rewarding, rescue swimmers are a part of all search and rescue teams. These are the guys that dive into the sea, no matter what the conditions, to put the harness around the victim so that they can be winched to safety by the helicopter crew. As you can imagine, it takes a special kind of person to be a rescue swimmer...
    In The Guardian, Kevin Costner plays Senior Chief Petty Officer Ben Randall, a member of the Aviation Survival Technician programme, who supply the search and rescue teams for the coast guard. Deciding to work past the regulation age of 40, Randall is confronted by his wife Helen, played by Sela Ward. She wants him to quit while he's ahead - but he's determined to carry on. During the argument, Randall receives a page from HQ assigning him to an immediate rescue. During the rescue, the crews helicopter comes down and everyone's killed - including the intended rescue target and Randall's best friend.

    Badly shaken by the incident, Randall decides to quit rescue swimming and is assigned to a coast guard training school. Randall is a legend amongst his rescue swimmer colleagues, having an estimated 200 - 300 saves to his name.(nobody actually documents this stuff...?) His posting causes a few ripples among the staff there - not least with Petty Officer Jack Skinner, played by Neal McDonough, who is the current chief instructor at the school and, if he's honest, probably a little jealous of Randall's brilliant record...

    A new course of intakes starts, and with it comes Cadet Jake Fischer, who is played by Ashton Kutcher. Fischer is the typical wide boy. Swimming trophies up to his eyeballs and with the arrogance and ignorance to match. During the first few weeks of training, Fischer meets schoolteacher Emily Thomas and they begin a casual relationship. However, half way through the course, things between Emily and Jake get a little more serious. After spending the night at her place, Fischer is late back to base and is confronted by Randall. Surprisingly, he's not dropped from the course - but, in true military fashion, the whole class is punished for one mans mistake.,

    Randall also holds all the swimming records at the base. One night, Fischer boasts to his girlfriend that he's going to beat all of the records. The bartender overhears and tells him that there is one record that will never be broken. The record for holding onto a rescue target. Years earlier, Randall was involved in a boat fire rescue. Having single handily saved all the crewmen, one was left when the winch broke on the helicopter. Randall held onto the victim by his finger tips while the helicopter flew back to base - resulting in serious injuries. Looks like there is a record that Fischer will never break...,

    The course finishes and Jake is assigned to Randall's old command. And who should turn up...? Old man Randall himself! Seems that time really is a healer and Ben's now over his tragic losses and ready to get back to work.
    As you can see, the plot is pretty standard Hollywood do-gooder stuff. What actually sets The Guardian above such films as Men Of Honor is Costner's performance. Much has been said and documented about the Kevin's demise since the brilliant Dances With Wolves. There is no doubt in my mind that the man can actually act given the right part. It seems that, in Ben Randall, Costner has found the character to take him on again. He's believable because there's a little bit of Randall in him in real life. Once at the top of his game, brought crashing down to earth by a series of devastating mistakes, he picks himself up again for one last charge. For me, this was Costner's best performance since the aforementioned Wolves movie.

    Ashton Kutcher on the other hand seems to play the complete real life role reversal. I will admit to this being the first film I've seen with Kutcher in a starring role. I'm afraid that movies like Dude, Where's My Car and Guess Who are so far down my to watch list, they just keep getting missed. My impression here though, is that Kutcher doesn't play off the big star to well. He plods through the film in awe of Kevin Costner and because of this, holds his character back a little. He never seems to be arrogant enough. When Randall and Fischer are sitting going through newspaper clippings of Jake's schoolboy swim team achievements, he seems almost embarrassed to be so good. Whereas in other parts of the film, notably when Costner's character isn't on set (the bar scene where he is caught bragging is a good example), his arrogance overflows and he can't get enough of telling people how good he is. It's an inconsistency that sticks out like a sore thumb. If Mr Kutcher is going to get on and bag those starring roles himself, he needs to get over this awe and bring himself up a little. From what I read in the movie press, he doesn't seem to have a hard time playing himself up in real life...
    As a film, The Guardian starts and ends at a frantic pace. The rescue scenes get you on the edge of your seat and are truly spectacular. However, it really slows to a crawl in the middle section. I found my mind wandering a little during the relationship building segment of the movie. However, all was well with the world again after the climatic final rescue scene. I can recommend The Guardian to die hard Costner fans as one of his finest pieces of work. The remainder can rest assured that a rental will suffice and go down well for that Friday night system work out...