The Guardian is nothing if not a formula film. Hollywood runs on these things. Once a film becomes popular, others seek to duplicate their success. If those copies are successful, a formula is born. They are the basis for many studio films; they are the backbone of their financial success. They allow them to throw a little bit of money towards smaller, more creative films, at least I hope that is the way it works.
Films made by a formula will often be heaped with criticism of movie snobs the world over. I am not one of them. I may recognize the formula but I will not dismiss it outright. We are fortunate there is talent out there that can breathe new life into a formula, or inject it with enough energy or emotion to make it work. A recent example of a formulaic film is Invincible, the Disney produced inspirational sports movie.
The Guardian is a story of self discovery, of healing, a sort of passing of the torch, and at its heart this action film manages to play the heart strings while it teases the adrenaline junkie in all of us. Is it completely effective? Not exactly, but it does make for good entertainment as it attempts to transcend the formula and become something bigger. There were times where I felt I was being manipulated by it, which made it pass over into melodrama place where it loses some of its credibility. Still, I liked it well enough to give it something of a pass.
We start off with Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), a top rescue swimmer. The opening sets him up as the hero as we watch him dive into the violent drink to rescue a couple who are about to go under. Soon after his team returns to base they are called back to the field where a ship is in distress. This does not end well, with his entire team being caught in the storm, leaving Randall as the only survivor.
The loss of his team leads to his assignment to "A" school, where he will train the next generation of swimmers. Enter Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a young man with a cocksure attitude that rubs his new instructor the wrong way. Little do they know they have a lot more in common than one would think. Randall pushes Fischer hard, forcing him to work harder and harder each time they go out.
The final third of the film puts both swimmers into the field, as the elder swimmer passes the torch to the younger swimmer. The story comes full circle as all of the lessons taught and learned during the first two thirds are put into action as the maturation progress for both men completes.