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DVD Review: "The Guardian"

We wanted to really like this movie. We truly did. Kevin Costner, when he's on point, can deliver some very charming - or even gristly - performances (oh Jim Garrison, where art thou?). We'd read some very positive reviews from people in the Coast Guard who said that the movie was a faithful depiction of the courageous men and women who put themselves on the line to save lives. But how did the story fare as a fictionalized narrative? It's a maddening exercise in what could have been.

The movie opens with a voice-over by Clancy Brown (a fave of ours ever since his role as The Kurgan in "Highlander"..."I have something to say - it's better to burn out, than to fade away!"), relating the mythic story of "The Guardian," a mysterious presence that people lost at sea often claim they feel lifting them to the surface, breathing life into their bodies as they wait for help to arrive. Brown's voice gives a credence to the myth that might otherwise come across as a cheesy motif for this type of film. Unfortunately, the writers totally undermine the tone with a hokey twist at the end, the surprise of which we'll leave for you to groan over at your own viewing.

As with many other Costner movies, we get a sense of how much of a bad-ass his character, Ben Randall, is from the outset. He's painted as this legendary Coast Guard diver who braves any element to rescue victims. During the film's second rescue scene, however, Randall's callous disregard for regulations ends up causing the demise of his entire crew. These opening sequences are filmed well, and serve their purpose in putting your nerves on edge as you experience the plight of real Coast Guard diver crews. There's something about peril in the ocean that has always disturbed us (hello "Titanic", "The Abyss", and "Poseiden"), so we had a glimmer of hope that director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive", "Holes") had nailed the tone that this subject matter requires.

As the story continues, to make matters worse, Randall's wife has asked for a separation, and now his life appears to be headed down the tubes. With his resolve shaken, Randall's captain (played effortlessly by Brown) assigns Randall to a Coast Guard training school to teach until he has regained his old steely composure.

Here's where the plot gets tied around the ankles with an an anvil attached and tossed into the ocean to drown. You've seen it before - the military academy, the new recruits, the old veteran with a chip on his shoulder, the arrogant hot-shot that the grumpy instructor wants to beat into submission. Except this time that arrogant hot-shot is played by none other than Ashton Kutcher, and while Kutcher manages to hold his own against more seasoned actors, we couldn't stop waiting for the big reveal where Kutcher pops out of nowhere during a scene and yells "You've been punk'd!," and then the crew burts out into gut-wrenching laughter. From here, the rest of the film descends into a series of cliches and half-hearted attempts at a romantic liaison between Kutcher's character and Emily Thomas (played by Melissa Sagemiller), a local schoolteacher. The old-school cliches only get worse from here, and the movie runs longer than necessary after Kutcher's character graduates and begins taking missions with the instructor (Costner) with whom he managed to finally see eye-to-eye. The closing scenes of Coast Guard rescue are expectedly dramatic, and they play well on camera, but the final twist at the end left us with a cold, nauseating lump in our stomachs.

Overall "The Guardian" was a decent movie to watch if you're looking for a no-brainer popcorn movie night. It's just a shame that the tone and direction that "could have been" was undermined by scenes that we had already seen done in a hundred other movies.


Alternate Ending
Director Andrew Davis explains why they filmed an alternate ending (which we won't get into since it would spoil the original ending), and then the 3 minute alternate ending displays. We have to agree with the decision made to keep the original.

Deleted Scenes
Only a couple of the 5 deleted scenes (with optional commentary by director and writer) might have been good candidates for remaining in the film. We're not sure how much they would have helped the already stretched relationships of the characters, however.

Audio Commentary
Director Andrew Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff give their play-by-play of the entire movie.

The Guardian: Making Waves
Go behind-the-scenes in this making-of documentary, where the cast and crew are interviewed on their involvement, and brief explanations show how particular shots were accomplished.

Unsung Heroes: So Others May Live
An inspirational 5 minute look at the real USCG Rescue Swimmers. Of particular interest is the piece on Hurrican Katrina, and how much work these guys had to do around the clock to save lives.

Movie Grade: C+
DVD Grade: B-

How did you like the film? Leave us your review below!

Posted by on February 17, 2007 3:05 PM
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