"The Guardian" heralds Costner's triumphant return

Oct. 5, 2006, midnight | By Justin Vlasits | 14 years, 3 months ago

Aging star excels as unsung Coast Guard hero

Everyone thought Kevin Costner was done. Now 51 years old, he cannot pretend to be Robin Hood, Tin Cup or Ray from "Field of Dreams" anymore. He is no longer the stud with rugged good looks, but he is still an amazing actor. And just like his character Ben Randall passes the torch of the Coast Guard rescue swimmer to his protégé Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), Costner has passed the torch of silver screen stardom to Kutcher in "The Guardian," a film that shows both subtle character development and intense action.

The film pays homage to the selfless job of saving the lives of those trapped in the sea, but it also portrays a man trying to come to grips with his best friend dying in his arms during a rescue mission. After Costner gets ashore, he is faced with the choice of either abandoning active duty in the Coast Guard because of his age, or going to teach at the Coast Guard academy, training new rescue swimmers. When he chooses the latter, he meets Fischer, a young hotshot swimmer who turned down scholarships from every Ivy League school to join the Coast Guard. After a rough start, the two men learn from each other and eventually work together on several rescue missions.

Writer Ron Brinkerhoff created Randall as a traditional Hemingway-hero, a stoic, stalwart man who has tried to do everything right in his life (think Santiago in "Old Man and the Sea" or Henry in "A Farewell to Arms") but instead of being glorified, suffers from marital problems — his wife (Sela Ward) leaves him in a rather drawn out and selfish manner that is once again reminiscent of Hemingway in his views on women — and other personal ones such as his entire crew dying when the helicopter they were piloting crashes into a boat during a vicious storm on the Bering Sea.

While Costner and Kutcher both delivered stunning performances, the rest of the cast, including the other Coast Guard students and teachers, are relatively one-dimensional foil characters with the exception of Maggie McGlone (Bonnie Bramlett), a bar owner who is responsible for filling Randall up with Wild Turkey bourbon and delivering the wittiest line in the movie: "Your wife left you; your best friend died. You sound like a country song. If you had a dog, he would have been run over by now."

Between these scenes of character maturation are powerful images of boats being torn apart as Coast Guard rescue swimmers attempt to save the passengers. When Jake is exposed to rescue footage, he becomes inspired to be more than just to be a great swimmer and the film does a good job of making the audience feel awe for those who risk their lives in such dangerous circumstances. Eventually, however, these montages crescendo into a frenzy of noise and pictures that lose the momentum built up by the personal conflicts within Fischer and Randall.

Another flaw in the film was that while it emphasizes the crucial role that the Coast Guard plays in saving lives everyday through rescues, it only mentions in passing the importance of the Guard during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Such timely significance should not be passed over so nonchalantly. The film should either have spent the time to include it in the plot or stayed away from such a touchy subject.

Despite these minor details, "The Guardian" was moving, entertaining and a must-watch. Costner was able to emerge once again — hopefully not for the last time — as the powerful leading man that he was in "Dances with Wolves" while Ashton Kutcher showed that he is capable of films more substantial than "Dude, Where's My Car?". More importantly, "The Guardian" is a beautiful tribute to the most overlooked servicemen in America.

"The Guardian" (136 minutes, area theaters) is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality.

Justin Vlasits. Justin Vlasits is a CAP senior who enjoys It's Academic, baseball, guitar and frisbee in addition to watching weird movies and contemplating the meaning of life. Justin is also a revolutionary member of SGR and will someday overthrow oppressive capitalism all over the world. More »

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