The Guardian is a fairly buoyant cinematic homage to the intrepid Coast Guard rescue swimmers who serve our country. In the ilk of An Officer and a Gentleman and Top Gun, Andrew Davis's protracted film is a favorable pairing of Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher.
Ben Randall (Costner) is a longtime rescue swimmer who's lost his crew in a harrowing mission, and has to settle to instruct new recruits. It's left physical and emotional scars. That includes his wife (Sela Ward) deciding to leave him, as he can't get the incident out of his mind.
Though not on active duty, Ben is dutiful about his latest task, and provides much challenge for his pupils. Kutcher's Jake Fisher is self-centered and arguably the finest new recruit. It bothers Ben that Jake doesn't really get the meaning of what the Coast Guard's goal is; he seems more interested in getting in their record books to erase Ben's name.
Thus, the screenplay sets up the conflict between the two and takes hold on how the mentoring blossoms from what motivates Jake to succeed in a cocky way. How each character develops viewer sympathy through their actions towards one another goes a long way to liking The Guardian. The emotions behind one who's jaded and the other who is a maverick engage the desperate peril felt at the outset.
Davis, best known for the film version of The Fugitive, works with his crew to stage some daring, genuine rescue sequences. However, don't expect the kind of f/x's that heightened dramas like The Perfect Storm. While much of the action takes place in the Bering Sea, a tank was often used for these scenes that seem repetitious, especially near the finish. So, the editing could have been more judicious as there are intense moments, but not as much action as one would expect for a picture like this that runs over two hours. Also the romance that plays out between Jake and Melissa Sagemiller's primary school teacher sticks out like a sore thumb than connects with the story like those aforementioned pics that starred Richard Gere and Tom Cruise.
Still, The Guardian is alert to the travails of this military branch that rarely gets its due recognition, and the admirable efforts of Costner and Kutcher project feeling for these real-life heroes, even when the film looks like it might drown in treacherous waters.