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The Guardian is a 2006 film starring Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, and Melissa Sagemiller that was released on September 29, 2006. The film was directed by Andrew Davis, director of The Fugitive. The setting for the film is the United States Coast Guard and their Aviation Survival Technician (AST) program.


The plot follows Senior Chief Petty Officer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) and Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) at the United States Coast Guard's Aviation Survival Technician (AST) Program. Ben Randall is the top rescue swimmer who continues to work against regulation past the age of 40. Jake Fischer is a hot-shot candidate for AST who was ranked as a top competitive swimmer in high school with scholarships to every Ivy league college and university, but opted to enlist in the Coast Guard instead in hopes of becoming an AST. The movie title is introduced by a mythic tale: People lost at sea often claim they feel a presence lifting them to the surface, breathing life into their bodies while they are waiting for help to arrive. They call this presence "The Guardian."

Ben, who has been juggling his home life and work as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, is confronted by his wife asking for a separation due to his frequent time at work. During the argument, he receives a page for an immediate rescue. Out at sea, he loses his rescue team in an HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter mishap, and while waiting in a survival raft, his best friend, Chief Petty Officer Carl Billings, dies due to injury, cold, and shock. Additionally, Ben had placed a victim into the helicopter's rescue basket who was abruptly pulled under with the sinking helicopter and was never seen again. Shaken, he is forced to either retire or to teach at a Coast Guard training school to recompose in which he reluctantly chooses the latter. Here, Jake arrives as a hopeful AST candidate at the academy. Ben is considered a legend with a countless number of saves.

Ben goes against protocol as an instructor and teaches as he wills, while Jake is the usual arrogant, but good-hearted student. During the training, Jake meets a local schoolteacher, Emily Thomas, and begins a "casual" relationship, as they both know his time there is limited. Once the initial, grueling weeks of training are over, and more than half of the students dropped (the school's Commandant almost boasts of an attrition rate of more than 50%), detailed instruction begins at the academy.

After sleeping at his girlfriend’s house, Jake arrives late to class and is confronted by the waiting Ben. Unexpectedly, Jake is not dropped, although he is punished for his tardiness. Ben tries to force Jake into quitting, but he later sees his persistence and dedication. Meeting Emily in a bar, Jake tells her about him beating all of his instructor's, Ben Randall's, records. However, Maggie the barkeep, an old friend of Ben's, tells Jake of an unbreakable record: On a rescue at a ship fire, Ben worked tirelessly to save all the victims. With one man left and a broken winch, Randall held the man by his fingertips for the entire flight to land, resulting in extensive injuries to his hand and shoulder; a record that could never be broken. Jake is humbled.

That night, Jake and Emily are at her house and Jake proposes they go on a date. Emily denies the date with Jake to stick to their "casual relationship" but later gives in to the date and they sleep together again. Later, during instruction, Jake's friend Charlie Hodge is unable to cope with panicked victims in the water and is afraid of failing school, so Jake takes him out for a drink before his date with Emily to cheer him up. After ending up in a Navy bar, they get involved in a fight and land in jail, leaving Jake's girlfriend stood up. Jake arrives back at base beaten and bandaged where he takes the blame entirely.

Ben confronts Jake as to why he left his prospects as a competitive swimmer to join the AST program, and tells Jake what he learned about Jake's past: on a late night out, Jake, the designated driver, got into an accidental automobile crash, resulting in the deaths of his high school relay team. After a moment of sorrow, Ben and Jake share common ground, now they both know how it feels like to be the only survivor. Jake asks what Ben’s real number of saves is; no answer is given. Instruction is nearing completion and Jake takes to the role of leader during exercises. At graduation only a handful of the original candidates remain. Emily comes to see her boyfriend graduate, but the two must say goodbye because Jake is leaving town. Jake and Emily find saying goodbye to each other overwhelming by sharing a hug and kiss, then they slowly walk away from each other.

Jake is assigned to CG Air Station Kodiakmarker, Alaskamarker for protection of the Bering Seamarker, Randall’s post and the same post Jake wants to be assigned to in the first place. On a mission together they are sent to rescue two kayakers. Fischer enters the cave and lights a flare. This brings back painful memories as Ben flashes back to his crew's disaster. After rescuing the first victim Jake returns to find Ben locked up unable to move. Ben's victim had hit a log and had a head laceration, which reminded him of the night he lost his crew. Jake continues to rescue both the second victim and Ben. At this point Ben realizes he cannot continue. Against his commander's wishes he retires. Jake again asks Ben what the number is. Twenty-two is the answer, the number of people Ben couldn't save, the only number he kept track of. Finding his wife’s house, Ben goes in to apologize. He gives her the divorce papers and his wedding ring while they both act remorseful. Ben reveals that he has retired and slowly makes his way out. Ben returns to station to clear his office when he hears the radio chatter of a rescuer needed. Jake is to be sent to rescue four sailors trapped on a sinking vessel.

Three seamen are rescued while the ship's captain is trapped in the hull. While Jake refuses to leave the captain, the chopper leaves to refuel. Finally freeing the captain, the door to the room is sealed shut by water and debris. Trapped in the room the hull begins to fill with seawater. Moreover, waves hit the vessel, causing the captain to hit his head against a pipe.

In addition, an oxygen tank falls on the captain's body, killing him in the process. Ben Randall is the only rescue swimmer available to save Jake. He promptly begins to gather his gear. On scene, Ben is lowered onto the vessel. Getting snagged on the mast he is forced to unhook and climb down. At this point Jake has very little breathing room. Finding the sealed door, the water is released and Jake is freed. Back on deck they both hook to the rescue cable. Halfway up, the winch jams and the cable begins to unravel. Ben, realizing it can't hold both of them, unhooks and tries to fall. Jake catches and will not let him go, holding onto him by his glove simply saying, "I won't let go." Ben understandingly says, "I know." and unstraps his glove, plummeting from a fatal height into the ocean. Desperate to go in, Jake isn't allowed, as the only cable they have is broken and are afraid to lose Jake as well; the spotlights never see Ben resurface.

Then, Jake Fischer begins to narrate. "The Coast Guard conducted one of the largest search-and-rescue missions for a single man in its history, but the body of Senior Chief Ben Randall was never found. What makes a legend? Is it what someone did when they were alive... or how they're remembered after they're gone? Some people actually believe Senior Chief made the swim to the Aleutian Islands. He's standing on a distant beach somewhere with a fishing pole in his hand. But I found my answer a couple of weeks later..." Weeks later, Jake is again sent to rescue a man. Upon retrieval, the victim keeps asking where the other man is. Jake realizes that 'someone' helped him, staying with him until help came. "He never let go", the man said. Jake attributes this to Ben's presence and continues his narration. "There's a legend—of a man who lives beneath the sea. He's a fisher of men. A last hope for all those who have been left behind. He is known as The Guardian (Senior Chief Ben Randall). Ben Randall always said life is about making choices. In the end, by making his, he helped me make mine."

This narration Jake makes refers to being reunited with Emily for good. In saying so, he visits Emily at the elementary school she teaches at. Because her class was interrupted by Jake, Emily pauses her class, approaches him and asks, "What are you doing here?" Jake answers, "I lied to you—I can't do casual." There, Emily kisses Jake happily.


Many of the supporting actors, including ASTC instructors, helicopter pilots, and support personnel, are actual U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers, pilots, and ground personnel. Several characters, including Kutcher's, identify themselves as Airman. An Airman is the title and rank of an enlisted person whom is undesignated and/or currently undergoing training in an aviation related field. Similar ranks within the Coast Guard are those of Seaman and Fireman.

One of the students was Mark Gangloff. He was an Olympic swimmer who received a gold medal in the Athens Olympic Games. *Clancy Brown "reprises" his role in The Guardian as another "Captain Hadley" — in the movie adaptation of Stephen King's The Shawshank Redemption, Brown played the chief of the prison's guards as Captain Byron Hadley.


A wave pool used during filming
  • The production company hired local contractors to build a massive indoor wave pool for production.
  • Following the series of hurricanes in the southern United States in 2005, production moved to Shreveportmarker, Louisianamarker. Some of the "base" scenes were filmed at Barksdale Air Force Basemarker in Bossier City, Louisianamarker and also at Camp Minden in Minden, Louisianamarker.
  • The film was revised after Hurricane Katrina, with the addition of several comments on the storm and the rescues following. The end credits are replete with "glory" shots of U.S. Coast Guard helicopters conducting rescues in the greater New Orleans area. The DVD contains a special feature on U.S. Coast Guard rescue operations, especially in the aftermath of Katrina.
  • Some of the scenes that were supposed to be filmed in Kodiakmarker, Alaskamarker were filmed CG Air Station Elizabeth Citymarker, North Carolinamarker instead. 60,000 pounds of ice were needed on the set.
  • The training pool used in the movie was LSU-Shreveport's natatoriummarker.
  • The 3D fluid effects (ocean surfaces, cresting waves, splashes, bow-spray, boat wakes, rain) were created by Flash Film Works in Hollywood with the expertise of Mark Stasiuk (RealFlow expert) at Fusion CI Studios in Los Angeles.


The mishap where Randall loses his crew is loosely based on an actual U.S. Coast Guard aviation mishap in Alaska. The aircraft was an HH-3F Pelican (USCG variant of the Sea King), instead of the HH-60J Jayhawk (USCG variant of the Blackhawk/Seahawk) pictured in the movie.[197615]

Alternate ending

In an alternate ending found on the DVD, Randall survives. As he unhooks and tries to fall, Jake again grabs him and vows not to let go. Instead of unstrapping his glove, Randall lets the cable pull them up and it breaks just as they get into the helicopter. This ending was added because some of the writers were worried that the original ending was too strong for viewers. Nonetheless, it was scrapped when Disney chairman, Dick Cook applauded the original ending.

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