DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Annapolis, The Guardian

 

Title:  Annapolis

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 108 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: Buena Vista/Touchstone/Mother 13

Director; Writer:  Justin Lin

Producer:

Cast:  James Franco, Wilmer Calderon, Brian Goodman, Donnie Wahlberg

Technical: 1.8 : 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  Military

 

I went to see this movie specifically because the Naval Academy has figured so conclusively in several  high profile cases involving gays in the military, especially the case of Joe Steffan, as demonstrated in his book Honor Bound (1992). That particular book gives a riveting and realistic account of life at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD in the mid 1980s.

 

Of course, here we have the “evil empire” Hollywood making a popcorn movie trying to please everyone and probably interesting no one. Critics have made a lot of the fact that the movie is filmed in Philadelphia (with a lot of matte paintings, it seems) and that not one scene was filmed in Annapolis. The city around the Academy is a great sight in itself. I visited the Academy several times while working on my book and took the official tour twice (including the infamous natatorium). The Academy is itself a spectacular sight, and the Academy refused to approve the script because of some troubling and misleading scenes, such as a hazing scene where plebes have to hold pails of water (at 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, remember your middle school science). So the movie really does look like something manufactured in committee and not a legitimate creative effort.

 

The story sounds nice. A working class young man Jake Huard (James Franco) gets a chance to go to the Academy at the last minute, after Plebe summer no less. There are some interesting episodes in the barracks, as when a bunkmate Estrada (Wilmer Calderon) gets called up on an honor violation for lying about showering enough to get rid of his B.O.  Soon Huard takes up Boxing, but the movie never comes close to matching the intensity of Cinderella Man. But he does make weight (he has to gain weight, with the help of a fattie in the brigade) and wins a crucial fight. The denouement is rather half-baked and superfluous.

 

The film industry has missed a big opportunity here. Make Steffan’s book true to life (would the Academy allow such a film’s crew on the grounds?), win some Golden Globes and Oscars, and poke holes in “don’t ask don’t tell.” All it takes is maybe $10 million and the resources of a Focus Features, Weinstein Company, or similar.

 

The Guardian (2005, Touchstone/Beacon, dir. Andrew Davis, PG-13, 136 min). The title of this movie reminds me of ACLU's newsletter "Guardian's of Liberty." The title refers her to a symbolic person lost at sea. In a practical sense, the title refers to rescue swimmers in the Coast Guard. They differentiate themselves from Navy sailors, who actually go into combat.

 

Ashton Kutcher plays Jake Fischer, a championship high school swimmer whose past is clouded by an automobile accident in which he was a designated driver. He was sober, but tragically several friends died. To make amends, he decides to become a rescue swimmer. A grizzled Kevin Costner plays Ben Randall, the instructor at his school, who himself is troubled by the loss of his team near the Katmai volcano in the Aleutians in Alaska in a storm rescue. Jake has his own issues balancing himself as an individual with being a member of a team, and that leads to confrontations, and finally a resolution after a bar brawl with Navy sailors. (There is one quick punch line that seems to insinuate gay emotions (and maybe the DADT issue) when Jake and a buddy get out of jail free, rather like in a Monopoly game,) Eventually, Ben brings Jake back to Alaska. The first rescue mission goes well, but on the second one, Jake has to deal with the fact that he cannot save everyone and has to let someone go. If he tries to save everyone, he can endanger other teammates. The film works up to a harrowing and logical, if partially tragic ending. Ben must become the Guardian.

 

The film is shot flat, in standard aspect, when given its length and visuality it could have used full wide screen. There are many harrowing training scenes, such as the hypothermia exercise in ice water. The camera moves quickly over the men, never dwadling. Yet, it leaves the impression that men who do this kind of work and answer this calling must "give up something."   

 

I have a discussion of Ashton Kutcher's 9/2006 interview with Ryan Seacrest on Larry King Live, at this blogspot link:

http://billsmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2006/10/ashton-kutcher-interviewed-by-ryan.html

 

Related reviews:. Cinderella Man; Joseph Stefan’s Honor Bound (book)

 

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Email me at Jboushka@aol.com