Overlong and overkill
By Mark Butterworth
I wanted to like The Guardian. I like Kevin Costner even though it seems like ages since he's been in a good movie. In the first part of the movie, when it turns into an excellent recruiting commercial for the US Coast Guard (which is not a bad thing), I began to mentally wander away since there was no conflict or character development to work on. Then the film caught some tension, created a few concerns and I began to root for the picture. Yeah, okay, I can be positive on this one. Way to go, guys.
Then it fell apart.
The Guardian opens with a dramatic Coast Guard rescue when Ben Randall (Costner), an aging rescue swimmer, manages to save a man and wife from the open sea. The man drowns his wife to save himself. But Ben finds her sinking, gets her aboard the helicopter and using CPR brings her back to life.
After that, he goes home (Kodiak, Alaska) to find his wife leaving their childless marriage because Ben, you see, is really married to his job. (I'm not quite sure how that's possible since Coast Guard duty is not exactly fraught with irregular hours, missions overseas, and no vacations or time off. But I went with it.)
Right away we have another dramatic rescue operation, this time at night, but it goes awry. The helicopter is lost and the other three members of Ben's crew die while he survives setting us up for his transfer due to Post Traumatic Stress.
Ben is sent to Barksdale Air Force Base to train USCG rescue swimmers. We meet the new crew of young men and women, and Ashton Kutcher as Jake Fischer is one of them. A hot shot high school swimmer who vows to break all of Randall's records at the academy. But will he make it through? The attrition rate is 50% and Ben doesn't like Jake. Jake isn't a team player. He's a glory hound. He might have issues. A few personal demons.
But then, Ben does, too, what with his friends dead and his wife leaving him.
We get an impressive training montage and then more training scenes as the movie wanders around in search of plot and finally settles on An Officer and Gentleman until there is a climactic emotional scene between Ben and Jake ending in their becoming buddies followed by a barroom scene with Ben reclaiming the honor of their service from the "squids" who had previously thrashed Jake and friend.
Now, after all this time, we're headed into the last turn with the graduation ceremony for the swimmers coming up. There's the matter of Jake's romance to wind up, and Ben returning to Kodiak to maybe get his life and wife back.
But the home stretch turns into a marathon. Ben has to train Jake, but that turns into a real rescue, and Ben falters. His demons come back in the way of flashbacks. He doesn't manage the situation well. Jake is now the hero.
Well, that's perfect. Ben knows he should quit and go reconcile with his wife. But then there's another dramatic rescue and Jake's on his own.
I can't go into too much more detail without giving the rest away, but let's say it's long, it's gooey, it's overkill. At two hours the movie was long. With another twenty minutes it's interminable. Nor can Costner pass up the chance to go for lump in the throat moments that aren't really earned. Nor can the story find a way to bring things to a conclusion.
The movie was supposed to have been a changing of the guard with the old bull teaching the young bull a few tricks, but here the old bull wants equal screen time because he's soulful and vastly caring in that sincere Costner way; and he can't exit the stage without wanting to make everybody cry over him. Blech.
(C) 2006 Mark Butterworth