Monday, 9 May 2011


“The men and women who have the right ideals are those who have the courage to strive for the happiness which comes only with labor and effort and self-sacrifice, and those whose joy in life springs in part from power of work and sense of duty.” - Theodore Roosevelt

We watched a standard, formulaic Hollywood film at the weekend, but strangely enough we did rather enjoyed it. It was the 2006 Andrew Davis film, “The Guardian” starring Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward and Melissa Sagemiller. Now let me clarify what I mean by a “formulaic” film. The prime elements of the story were based on conflict between an older teacher and a younger student, with a struggle to succeed in the face of adversity, the courage of maintaining sight of one’s goals and the determination to achieve them, as well as a theme of self-sacrifice, which had to overcome pride and selfishness. Add a couple of subplots for romantic interest and surround the whole with spectacular scenery, great cinematography and good direction and you have a typical Hollywood production aiming for box-office success.

The film borrows from previous such films of which there are plentiful examples: “Top Gun”, An Officer and A Gentleman”, “GI Jane”, “Pearl Harbor”, etc, etc… Central to this particular story are the sea and the US Coast Guard. More specifically, the rescue swimmers of the Coast Guard, who risk their lives on a daily basis to save those who are endangered when their vessels capsize. At 139 minutes, the film is a tad too long and there could have been a bit more celluloid on the cutting room to make it tighter. At one stage we thought the film was about to finish (on a bright note, but no, it just kept going…). Some additional character development would not have gone astray.

The plot in a nutshell is this: An experienced but ageing rescue swimmer (Costner) with the US Coast Guard in Kodiak, Alaska, takes part in a rescue mission that goes horribly wrong, and his whole team is killed, he being the only survivor. At the same time his wife (Ward) has decided she wants a divorce as she has become sick of competing with his real love – his job. He is given the choice of retiring or of becoming an instructor at the Coast Guard training facility in Louisiana. He takes the teaching position with more than a couple of misgivings. He moves in and makes changes not only to the curriculum and teaching methods, but he begins to fail promising young students without a second thought, basing his decisions on his experience. At the academy, he meets a young man (Kutcher) with unlimited potential, but with a psychological problem that holds him back from functioning as a member of the team. The two develop an adversarial relationship that prevents them from functioning well. Thrown into the midst of the story is the young student’s romance with a local girl (Sagemiller). As the film progresses the instructor and the student find that they share much and finally success crowns both the teacher’s and the student’s efforts. When the two of them return to Kodiak to work side by side on rescue missions, trouble develops again…

The film has plenty of action scenes and there is a host of special effects that support the plot. Most of these parts of the film are extremely well done and help to drive action forward. The film sags when the romantic interests intrude and when there are too many repetitive elements (e.g. the training scenes). The film could have become corny, but it saves itself from that by a whisker. Both Costner and Kuchner act well, but the top honours go to Costner. Ward and Sagemiller are there for decorative purposes, one feels, and I would have preferred a little more depth of character shown in the depiction of these two women.

There are some poignant scenes designed to pull on the heart strings, some half-hearted attempts at humour, but overall this is a classic dick flick, designed to inspire and educate. It is a prime vehicle for US Coast Guard recruitment campaigns and it does tend to mythologise a little the dangerous and risky work of rescue swimmers. These are heroes who have to make difficult decisions in the face of adversity, while trying to save lives, hopefully not by squandering their own. Foolhardiness is shown more than once in the film and its consequences are sobering.

We mostly enjoyed the film and would recommend it for viewing, if it falls in your lap. I wouldn’t go to any great lengths to search for it and watch it, unless you have a special interest in this type of work. Our greatest objection to it in retrospect was that it was rather too shallow, while trying to be deep. At the time it didn’t feel that way, it was more on reflection that it appeared that way. Probably not a good idea to watch the film if you get seasick easily or if you are thalassophobic!


  1. Is anyone else having trouble posting on Blogger today? I have tried to post on three different browsers (Camino, Firefox and Opera) on two different computers and have not been able to get past the added picture.
    All I get is the annoying revolving circle in the posting box, which will not allow me to enter any text...

  2. OK! Problem resolved. Thank you Google...

  3. Oh I loved this movie Nic!!!!!
    And I think Kevin is so cute...........