Senior Chief Ben Randall is way past the prime of his stellar career as a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer. The missions are no longer smooth sailing for the highly decorated daredevil. And even his personal life is becoming waterlogged as his wife packs up and moves out. But when a stormy high seas rescue goes wrong—destroying the helicopter, killing his crew and leaving his best friend dying in his arms—the world finally comes crashing in on the weather-beaten man.
His captain strongly suggests that he take a break and teach as an "A" School rescue swimmer instructor. Randall reluctantly agrees.
As his trainees struggle to stay afloat, one recruit rises to the top. Jake Fischer is a former swimming champion with a lot of attitude and a troubled past. Randall recognizes a bit of himself in the young man and eventually takes him under his wing. With time and exhausting work, the team begins to gel. However, as the recruits find their way, Randall worries that he might not find his way back to the job he so desperately loves.
The Guardian is all about brave men and women who are willing to risk their lives in order to save others'. Randall's wisdom, humility, tough love and servant leadership are outstanding. He doesn't demand respect; he earns it. For example, after icing down a pool to give the newbies a crash course in hypothermia, he freezes right along with them. No sacrifice is too great. He's a real pro and a father figure to Fischer, and in time turns the young man into a strong leader.
Randall and Fischer are both shown rescuing people in the most harrowing of conditions. One scene has Randall jumping into gigantic crashing waves—battling a furious storm that has already sunk a ship and claimed a half-dozen lives—in the hopes of saving one nearly-frozen boy. In another, Fischer refuses to leave a trapped man below deck in a sinking ship.
The story is told of the senior chief saving 20 people from a doomed medical transport. With the last man, the helicopter winch jams and Randall, dangling from the line, has to hold the man with one hand all the way back to base. He tells him, "I won't let go," which becomes Randall's credo (and Fischer's) for all future rescues. [Spoiler Warning] At the end of the film, Fischer and Randall are in a similar situation, swinging from a fraying winch cable. Fischer tells him, "I won't let go." Randall deliberately loosens his glove and drops 80 feet into the churning sea in order to save the younger man.
The movie also speaks of teamwork and unswerving dedication. Randall tells his recruits that the only way "we work is as a team," and that in the face of impossible odds while rescuing others, "You have to find a way to be that miracle." Fischer keeps pressing Randall for a number (meaning the number of people he's rescued); finally Randall says, "22." Fischer shows surprise that it's that low, but Randall continues, "That's the number I lost. The only number I kept track of."
No film in recent memory has reflected the noble self-sacrifice described in John 15:13 as well as The Guardian. "You get to save lives," Randall preaches, "And there is no greater calling in the world than that." Another trainer says, "When the Holy Lord Himself reaches down from heaven with winds that rip houses off the ground, we go out." (Incidentally, "Acts of God" get several mentions.) In a perilous moment a helicopter crewman says sincerely, "God help you."
Fischer dares his friends to pick out the hottest girl in the bar and bets them that he can take her home. And even though the girl (Emily) is reluctant to get involved ("Every 18 weeks a new bunch of you guys are looking to score with the local talent"), she is eventually swayed by his charm.
They find themselves hopping into bed pretty early on, despite (or is it because of?) Fischer's teasing: "You're gonna have to stop undressing me with your eyes. 'Cause there's no way you're getting me into bed." Emily makes it clear that she's OK with a physically intimate relationship as long as they avoid commitment and all meaningful conversation. "You want casual," Fischer replies. "I'm a guy. I can do casual." (He can't, of course, but the deeds have already been done by the time he figures that out.)
Those deeds involve us seeing her in a robe and him bare-chested in her bed—afterwards. Later, they're in bed again, fawning over each other and diving under the covers for more. (Their banter includes a few mild sexual innuendoes and double entendres.)
Emily wears low-cut tops. A very muscular recruit strips off his shirt for the camera. After a freezing cold training exercise, the recruits are all shown naked in a hot shower. (The camera doesn't dip below their waists.) An older female friend of Randall's says that the only reason she can look back with fondness on her life is that she "drank, smoked and screwed" her way through it. A snide, gay-themed jab is thrown out after we witness Fischer teaching another recruit how to break a panicked swimmer's death grip. Another one is flung at a man who tries to stand up for someone.
The rescue scenes often get intense as the lives of everyone involved are constantly threatened. Ships burn, explode and sink. The Coast Guard helicopter crashes, burns and sinks. In an agonizing sequence, it then drags a boy to his death because he's inside the rescue basket which is still attached to the winch. A man is shown with a horribly burned face. Dead bodies are seen floating on the water.
Struggling to survive in rough water, a man almost drowns his wife in his panic and Randall must punch him and knock him out in order to save them. During a training exercise, a recruit does much the same thing to a trainer in order to break his stranglehold. There's a discussion of an accident that killed a car full of young men.
When Navy sailors contemptuously pour a beer over Fischer's head, a bar fight erupts. Fischer and a buddy are later shown bruised and bloodied in a jail cell. Instead of disciplining Fischer, Randall takes him back to the bar for payback. (Mitigating circumstances include the fact that Randall had been trying to unearth Fischer's buried sense of teamwork and camaraderie—and the brawl was spawned by his sticking up for a friend and for the Coast Guard.) Still, the scene shows Randall hitting a man and then slamming his head several times into the top of the bar. Elsewhere, Fischer has to be separated from another recruit when their pushing and shoving nearly turns to blows.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The recruits and trainers are shown in numerous bar, party and casual scenes drinking beer and hard alcohol. It's implied that Randall downs whiskey along with his prescription pain medication.
The Guardian is a nicely acted, well directed, bits-and-pieces blend of a number of movies we've seen before (Top Gun, The Perfect Storm and An Officer and a Gentleman among them). So there's no new revelations in watch a grizzled pro teach cocky upstarts the ropes. That not to say the rescues at sea aren't cool—even if the boats all look like they're pivoting mechanically amid CGI waves and overactive dump tanks.
Chest-thumping hoo-rah moments, partially undressed romance, a smattering of foul language and a beer-tipping bar brawl mean this is a genuine, Grade A formula action pic. It also means families will be forced to gasp for air more than few times if they choose to watch it.
And that's too bad. Because The Guardian also embraces something we haven't seen in a while. It's a movie about sacrifice. And not just the sacrifice Peter Parker makes when he dons his Spider-Man costume, either. This is a film that gives a face to the real people out there who put others first. Someone who's willing to die to save another. It's a film that gives a face to and pays tribute to the very real men and women who live and die by the motto "So Others May Live."