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'The Guardian' resurrects same old story

It would be no difficult thing to heap criticism on "The Guardian," a movie all too familiar in plot and type. There is nothing new under the sun, and Hollywood will be the first to attest to that fact when it comes to screen writing. Move "An Officer and a Gentleman," which was Navy, to the U.S. Coast Guard and you have "The Guardian."

The template is instantly recognizable: crusty old Senior Chief (Kevin Costner) takes a group of cocky, green newbies (Ashton Kutcher, et. al), and through sheer will and determination whips them into fighting form. In the case of "The Guardian" the newbies are young men and women who want to become rescue swimmers &

those intrepid few who drop from helicopters into treacherous waters and situations, their only mission being to save lives. It is an elite group, trained not for combat but for emergency rescues.

Okay, you might say, been there, seen that. But first, this isn't a bad B movie. In fact, it's well acted and entertaining, with some genuinely tension-filled moments. And who would question that we should know about these brave men and women whose motto is "semper paratus" (always ready).

But there is another reason to watch "The Guardian," and that would be Kevin Costner. Here's an actor with a deep resume' who is at the top of his game. No one is better than Costner at playing a character such as Ben Randall &

a longtime rescue swimmer &

who is confronting his own mortality and finding his aching joints and disturbed sleep almost more than he can bear. Yet he is unwilling to bend as he confronts the end of something, the loss of those days doing what he loves to do above all else. Compounding his pain is the recent decision by his wife (Sela Ward) to leave him, having decided that his absence, his abiding preoccupation with rescuing others while ignoring her has come to an end.

There is a great deal of truth in this character, and Costner conveys with understated strength the precipice on which Randall feels he is standing. To grow old is to incrementally face loss: the loss of youth, of a certain physical vitality and ability. It means coming to terms with the loss of time, acknowledging that there are far fewer years ahead than are behind. And there's regret, regret for opportunities not seized, for mistakes made that can't be put right. This is no small thing. Watching Costner take the full measure of Ben Randall is moving to watch.

There is also an exceptional scene where Costner is sitting in a bar late at night nursing a cup of coffee, served by the bar's owner, portrayed by Bonnie Bramlett. Outside the world is silent, the bar long ago closed. She begins to speak about what it has meant to her to have lived a full life while acknowledging that it is all coming to an end. Not that day or that year, but the halcyon years are now memories. It's a wonderful monologue, beautifully written and delivered, and Costner generously sits back and quietly listens as this amazing woman, singer and self-reliant barkeep, Bramlett herself, makes the moment her own. Just watching these two interact is worth the price of admission.

Costner has entertained us for years. Who can forget "The Untouchables" or "Dances With Wolves;" "No Way Out" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." And then there's "Open Range" with Robert Duvall. Likely one the best westerns to come along in several decades, and, like "The Guardian," about two aging wranglers who know that the life they've lived, herding cattle across vast stretches of open range is coming to a close. Fences are being erected; towns are encroaching. Times have changed and they haven't. It's just superb storytelling, all of it.

Of course, "The Guardian" isn't "Open Range," or "The Untouchables." And it doesn't approach being epic as did "Wolves." But it does have its moments.