The Guardian: New England Clam Chowder

Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Andrew Davis
Starring: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Melissa Sagemiller
(PG-13, 139 min.)

"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Above you the chopper blades whip through an icy wind. Below looms an angry sea that tosses a flailing fishing boat and its desperate crew in the churning currents. Would you have the courage to jump into these dark and frigid waters to save them? 

Most of us wouldn’t, and even in the ranks of those stalwart young men and women who undertake the rigorous training to become the Coast Guard Emergency Rescue Swimmers, the dropout rate is a whopping fifty percent. How often we take for granted the everyday valor of those who risk life and limb to save us. 

And why our youth does not look up to these fine Americans and instead idolizes overpaid Hollywood celebrities, self-indulgent athletes, or degenerates and thugs who serenade us with vulgar lyrics is beyond me.

The Guardian is an ode to these unsung heroes, and those like them who grace our police and fire departments, our National Guard, Reserves, and all four branches of the military. Perhaps for a little while after 9-11, we had renewed respect for them, but now it is again the glory of the self appointed critics of our time to magnify every shortcoming and ignore the many small acts of kindness and courage displayed on an everyday basis by these fine men and women.

In a salute to this lot, not only does The Guardian take you along on many a heart-pounding rescue at sea, but the audience is also privy to the intense training that precedes it. And such training, a hand in glove fit with the real stuff as documented on the Discovery channel, is especially intriguing because the unorthodox methods of Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), legendary rescue swimmer and now reluctant instructor. Not content to teach the stages of hypothermia textbook style, he fills the swim tank with young recruits and ice cubes in equal measure, not hesitating to share the frigid water with his apprentices. Hands numb, their bodies quaked by uncontrollable body tremors, each recruit nevertheless, must perform CPR on the poolside dummy for as long as it takes, because as Randall explains to them, “We never give up.”

And it is that note of self-sacrifice that runs throughout, giving that added component that turns the iron courage into even stronger steel. The casting and script also bring some surprising depth to this saga of boys becoming men. Costner, playing the hailed rescue swimmer, now reduced to coaching from the sidelines after a tragedy at sea, seems more than comfortable in the role of the once top dog, bringing a gritty humility to an aging body that must step aside for the younger generation. Perhaps it is because, in his own career, he has been there himself.

One such example of the new blood teeming to sweep Randall and his records aside is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a champion high school swimmer who has turned down the Ivy League for a chance to “risk his life for little money, less recognition, and the good probability that he will die cold and alone in the sea.” Beneath the rivalry between the two stars, one on his way up, the other reluctantly picking his way down, there is also respect and yes, curiosity as well. They unknowingly share some secrets, but they are buried deep and each is loath to give them up.

When he isn’t working overtime to impress the exalted Randall, Jake is working very hard to woo the local looker, comely and savvy schoolteacher Emily Thomas (Melissa Sagemiller). What makes their relationship rise above the typical is the whimsy and role reversal in their courtship. 

Self-assured and perhaps a little inebriated, Jake bets his fellow recruits that he can pick up the good-looking gal at the bar in under two minutes. She isn’t too impressed with his pick up line and aware also of the circumstances behind it. The only out she offers is for him to split his winnings with her. Later on, as they dance together, he warns her to stop undressing him with her eyes and protests that the last thing on the night’s agenda will be her getting him into bed. It is also more than a little refreshing that she is a wholesome elementary school teacher who turns down a slew of proposed dates because of parent teacher conferences, but perhaps my bias is showing here.

Maybe this kind of flick can’t compete with endless explosions, glorified heists, or a grotesquely fascinating underworld of corruption and violence iced over as “heroic,” but let’s hope that a few good men (and women) have the sense to see the difference between pretenders and the real thing. Too bad most of the smug movie critics do not!

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Usually, it’s the girl who wants flowers and a romantic dinner date. In The Guardian, it’s the guy. While Emily seems content to stick around her apartment, cutting out cardboard shapes to decorate her classroom, Jake longs for a real romantic evening. This reversal of roles is probably the spark in this otherwise predictable love story. 

Unfortunately, for all his good intentions, Jake doesn’t make it to the restaurant, and all that Emily gets is candlelight, white linens and a two-hour wait. What delicious fare might have graced her lips we’ll have to guess.

My bet is that Jake would have wanted her to order the most expensive thing on the menu, probably something featuring lobster, while the demure schoolteacher would be more budget minded. Whatever might have been, however, they could not miss by starting off with traditional New England Clam Chowder, rich and creamy, with plenty of clams, butter, and pungent spices. 

If you long for some luscious lobster to go along with this introductory sea fare, check out Lobster Alfredo from our review of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window

It’s the next best thing to going to New London, CT, where the Coast Guard conducts its training.

New England Clam Chowder

Serves six.

Ingredients 

  • 1 slice hickory-smoked bacon, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 1 cup onion, minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon The Cliff House Spice Blend (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 can clams (6-1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup bottled clam juice
  • 1-1/2 cups Half and Half
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced

Preparation

To Create The Cliff House Spice Blend, blend 4 tsps oregano, 4 tsps dried parsley, 2 tsps marjoram, 2 tsps dill, 4 tsps thyme, 4 tsps basil, 1 tsp sage, 4 tsps rosemary, 2 tsps tarragon, 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, crushing in a mortar if possible.

Store in a resealable plastic bag to refrigerate.

In a heavy-bottomed, 4-pint soup kettle, sauté bacon, butter, onion, garlic and The Cliff House Spice Blend over low heat. Do not allow to brown. Drain clams and set aside, reserving the juice. Slowly stir the flour and clam juices in the sauté mixture. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Add Half and Half and simmer 20 minutes. Add white pepper, potatoes and clams. Heat to serving temperature. Do not allow to boil, as this toughens the clams. Serve at once with crackers and warm cornbread.

Recipe Source: Go New England. com