Kevin Costner plays Ben Randall, an admirable veteran hero in the Coast Guard elite rescue unit. His high level of commitment causes havoc in his personal life, namely his marriage to wife Helen, played by Sela Ward. Costner’s soft spoken mannerisms, quiet distinction, and fearless action elevated mediocre stories like The Bodyguard and works well in this film.
The action and surprises are profound as the plot gives audiences a comprehensive visual tour of the Coast Guard operations, something no major film has done yet. Randall’s career takes a different turn as his senior officers seek to use his “epic resume where it’s going to do some good” – aka instructing new recruits.
Ashton Kutcher stars as promising young recruit Jake Fischer, who quickly clashes with Randall’s teaching style. Both actors handle the physical demands of the roles very well, which fit the film's "action with a purpose" theme. It's a great role for Kutcher until he has the acting chops to carry a film on his own. The underrated Costner puts in another great performance that continues a nice string of recent films like Open Range and The Upside of Anger. Ben’s quest to “narrow the gap” between real world/field experience and training pushes the instructors and recruits past their norms. Special scenarios, ‘brick’ drills, and hypothermia exercises fill up the training time. Randall prepares the recruits mentally as well for tough situations they’ll “have to live with as a human being.”
These two lead actors really start to gel together when the plot switches gears a bit at a military bar and during a dramatic meeting. “Nobody appreciates us until they need us” is just one of the life lesson gems Randall passes on to Fischer. Their age gap and life perspectives create a nice linear development throughout the plot.
The supporting characters function well for the plot, but don’t get enough screen time to make a memorable impression on their own. Fischer is flanked by love interest Emily, played by Melissa Sagemiller, and fellow recruit Hodge, played by Brian Geraghty. Randall’s friend Maggie, played by Bonnie Bramlett (from TV's Rosanne) represents the weakest of the bunch. You may not be able to understand some of her dialogue, but she has a nice moment when Randall visits her bar after hours.
John Heard (Big, Home Alone) plays a Coast Guard officer (with way too much makeup in his first scene) who sets the stage for this first-time teacher and his recruits, but it’s Randall’s assistant instructor, played by Neal McDonough (Minority Report and the upcoming Flags of Our Fathers), who makes the most memorable impression. Initially, this blue-eyed bull is the closest to a bad guy in this film, but instead the real enemy here is the raging waters and weather conditions that jeopardize human life.
Director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) creates some amazing water rescue scenes that look amazingly real and bolster the fresh subject matter of a major portrayal of the Coast Guard on screen for the first time. It’s actually very hard to tell if special effects were used in these sequences. The familiar elements include plenty of “over-the-hill” references, interesting military statistics, premonition-filled dialogue, and a music montage, but the film still has enough heart and emotion to win over viewers.
Recommended with one reservation for familiarity and rated PG-13 for language, action peril and sexual situations. Filming locations included Alaska, Oregon, North Carolina, California and Louisiana (Hurricane Katrina is mentioned – the film’s production actually had to move after this disaster). Watch the ending credits for a historical picture montage of past Coast Guard people/events set to a heart tugging song titled “Never Let Go” performed by Bryan Adams.