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Kevin Costner as Ben Randall
Ashton Kutcher as Jake Fischer
Sela Ward as Helen Randall
Melissa Sagemiller as Emily Thomas
Clancy Brown as Capt. William Hadley
Omari Hardwick as Carl Billings
Alex Daniels as Wild Bill
Adam Peña as Benjamin Reyes
John Heard as Capt. Frank Larson
Neal McDonough as Jack Skinner
Brian Geraghty as Billy Hodge
Dulé Hill as Ken Weatherly
Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is the Coast Guard's most illustrious rescue swimmer having saved more people at sea than anyone can keep track of anymore. He's been so successful because, understanding the grave responsibility he's been entrusted with, he's thrown himself entirely into his work, which doesn't leave much of him to share with anyone else, such as his wife, Helen (Sela Ward).
After an accident kills his entire crew and his wife leaves, Ben - who may be the most put upon man on Earth at this point - is reassigned as an instructor to the Coast Guard's 'A' School to train the next generation of rescue swimmers. There he meets the talented Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a high school swim champ who has turned down several college scholarships to become a rescue swimmer instead.
Of course, Ben and Jake are immediately at odds; Ben doubts Jake's motives and Jake feels as if he is being unfairly treated in the training. Eventually Ben, perhaps finally realizing he's reached the end of his career, takes Jake under his wing.
"The Guardian" is one of those inspirational movies about real-life heroes, the guys who protect everyone else at the cost of their own safety, trying to make real the kind of self-sacrifice and the mentality that goes along with it that most people can't understand. Like most movies of it's kind it goes to great lengths to make itself understood, substituting earnestness for subtlety. It goes to such lengths that it often feels quite bit longer than its 136 minutes.
There's nothing particularly wrong with it, it's just very tedious.
Originality doesn't seem to be important in the film, and maybe it doesn't have to be as it is dealing with something true and something important, but what that something is director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") doesn't seem to know. Themes of aging and sacrifice are touched on, but only in fits and starts. A large supporting cast is introduced but for the most part ignored in favor of Costner and Kutcher, neither of whom they can quite decide who's story this is. It's all very muddled, meandering through Ben's various tragedies in Alaska, introducing the new recruits and their training, and then back to Alaska for more swimming. It feels as if it starts off as one movie and ends as another, more by accident than design.
The cast is generally fine, particularly Costner as the world weary Randall, and Davis directs with a firm hand. One training montage, done on video instead of film, is particularly well done and actually makes something as over done as the training montage fresh to watch.
And maybe that's what's really wrong with "The Guardian." The individual parts work fine, but they don't add up to anything.