Replace the Coast Guard with basketball, football, or swimming, and you have the basic Disney formula behind The Guardian. This isn’t a revolutionary film, but it’s a story that Hollywood has surprisingly avoided, and the Coast Guard deserves way more credit than they get. Politics aside, there’s an average tale of someone going above and beyond for the sake of others in the face of adversity that’s been done to death, even if it’s done well here.
Kevin Costner is supposed to be 40 years old, although his real age makes him look far too old for the role to make it believable. He’s the long time grizzled veteran haunted by a rescue gone wrong. Ashton Kutcher plays the young hot shot with the mysterious past looking to take over the reigns. The whole thing sounds familiar, and that’s constantly hindering this film as it never becomes anything more than what you expect.
The Guardian clocks in well over two hours, and it’s at least 20 minutes too long. Much of the film deals with the training of new recruits, and for such a staggering amount of screen time only Kutcher is given any real character development. These sequences drag as Costner puts the newcomers through the ringer using new, unauthorized techniques with the usual resentment from the higher-ups. Constant flashbacks also become a source of irritation.
Two romances go nowhere, especially that between Kutcher and Melissa Sagemiller. The performances are fine, but the relationship seems to exist purely to put a happy ending on screen and nothing more. Sela Ward as Costner’s wife is likewise wasted as the frustrated ex who became tired of the Coast Guard calls. There is nothing else to her character in terms of development. Again, she’s there for emotional attachment at the end of the film.
Where The Guardian excels is action. Each set piece, with its grim looking seas, feels epic. The scale is superb; the rocking camera nauseating in a good way, and with the sound turned up, this is pure Hollywood disaster entertainment at its best. These extended sequences are intense, emotional, and incredibly well done.
With a conveniently plotted ending, Guardian ends on a somewhat corny note, but it doesn’t detract completely from the experience. This is harmless Hollywood fluff about a group of people who do not get enough credit for what they do, even if the film tries too hard to make that point. Not bad, hardly great.
Guardian is a fine example of a live action Blu-ray. While not flawless, the sharpness, clarity, and detail are wonderful. Close-ups are loaded with fine facial features, and long shots don’t lose any detail. Black levels are superb, although arguably too deep at times. There are some noticable compression artifacts when the blacks aren’t perfect and the contrast can run a little hot in some scenes, but these are minor complaints at the worst.
It should also be noted that different filming formats were employed, including a standard hand-held home video camera during some of the training. Certain rescues scenes feature a fine grain stock. It’s nothing against the transfer, yet it’s worth noting for those not expecting it.
During its action scenes, Guardian delivers the audible goods. Waves deliver heavy bass, the swirling winds fill the sound field, and creaking ships come through in stunning clarity. This PCM mix is more than spectacular there, yet it dies elsewhere. There’s no sense of ambient audio during scenes such as the bar, where various outside conversations sit in the front channels. That said, the action is pure demo material.
Annoyingly, the disc does not have a main menu, and every time you try to access it, you’re asked to select from a standard or “enhanced” version of the film. The enhanced part comes from a unique Filmmaker Q&A where you select a question from a list, and it’s answered. Since the disc was an early release for the format, it’s nowhere near as smooth or as easy to use as some newer features. Plus, the content is only available through this feature. You can’t access it without watching the movie.
For those that don’t want to deal with all of that, a commentary from director Andrew Davis and writer Ron Brinkerhoff will fill in the blanks. Some deleted scenes along with an alternate ending are included. Despite its forced emotional push, the ending in the film was a better choice. A promotional “making of” is followed with a nice piece on the real Coast Guard.