Top Swimmer and a Man of Honour
After a protracted ending "The Guardian" shows the words "To the Men and Women of the United States Coast Guard, so others may live" they are important words which highlight the underlying motive of this movie. Here we have a movie which highlights the risks, the bravery, the skill and the dedication of those men and women and whilst I have no idea how realistic "The Guardian" is it does make you appreciate these life savers.
But there is another side to "The Guardian" another side which basically feels like someone has gone through every movie about men and women who go through rigorous training and combined them into this drama. As such it feels like "The Guardian" has elements of "An Officer and a Gentleman", "Top Gun", "Men of Honour", "Heartbreak Ridge" and I would have added "Trial by Fire" if it hadn't come afterwards. Basically there is a very cliche side to this movie a melodramatic side which is often cheesy and sadly spoils the message slightly making it entertaining but far too familiar.
Veteran US Coast Guard swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is involved in an accident at sea which sees his team killed during a rescue mission. Ben may have survived but he is physically and emotionally scarred and is forced by Capt. William Hadley (Clancy Brown) to take a post at a training school to give himself some time to recover, something he does begrudgingly especially as his marriage is in difficulty. But at the training academy he comes across Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) a sublimely talented swimmer who is desperate to prove he is the best of the best setting his targets on Ben's long standing records. But Ben has his own emotional scars which prevent him from really succeeding leading the recruit and the trainer to clash numerous times.
So as already pointed out the motive of "The Guardian" is to highlight the dedication and skill of the Men and Women of the United States Coast Guard and it achieves that. By the time the movie finally winds up you do get a glimpse of what these life savers go through, the demanding training, the need to follow procedure rather than act like cowboys and how the job can physically and emotionally leave them scarred. Now this is where we have a conflict because it does get across the toughness of having to choose who to rescue in a multiple casualty situation and how losing people be it casualties or team members can leave an emotional scar but the way it is incorporated into the story feels like a cliche. I couldn't help but think of "Top Gun" and Maverick whilst this was going and with Ben being injured it reminded me of Robert de Niro's character in "Men of Honour".
And this is basically where for me "The Guardian" starts to feel weak because we have a story of a seasoned rescuer with marital, physical and emotional issues training a cocky young student who chats up a local lass who knows that as a trainee he will only be in her life for a few weeks. Basically it feels like a collection of cliches from other movies and whilst that may mean it becomes a "Top Gun" or "An Officer and a Gentleman" for a new generation it felt like an inferior copycat for me. In fact the training as well as the non training scenes which include a bar brawl as well as issues with a muscle bound student all feel like they have been copied from other movies. It means that whilst all of this is entertaining and nicely put together it didn't wow me as being fresh or original.
Now part of my problem with this comes from the casting because as Jake Fischer Ashton Kutcher is supposed to be cocky, arrogant and a bit of a ladies man with a personal issue but he is no Tom Cruise or Richard Gere, he doesn't deliver that self belied or sex appeal. Kutcher grows into the character during the latter half of the movie but for the most he ends up coming across as inferior and a too much of a cliche. As for Costner as the old swimmer forced to train it is better because he does make Ben a weary character whose body aches and his memories haunt him. The character is still little more than a collection of cliches but at least Costner owns the character and tries to make it his own.
What this all boils down to is that "The Guardian" whilst noble in highlighting the work of the United States Coast Guard ends up feeling like a "Top Gun" or "An Officer and a Gentleman" for a new generation. It may work for a younger generation but for those like me who grew up on Gere in his Navy whites or Cruise's cockiness in a flight suit will find it entertaining but an inferior imitation.