Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Guardian

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• Strip-mining clichés from every possible military movie

• Turning a potentially unique film about the Coast Guard into yet another Top Gun echo


• Squandering surprisingly good performances from Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher on a story that tries to do far too much, thus drags out to wearying length

Defenders: Director Andrew Davis, writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff

Tone of commentary: Detail-driven. Davis focuses on where, when, and even by whom each shot was filmed. He frequently identifies the real-life "Guardies" appearing onscreen or consulting on details, and the crew and techniques involved in each sequence. An alternately admiring and self-important Brinkerhoff counters with a similar level of information about the characters' internal lives, why he wrote them that way, and how much the Guardies admired his initial story pitch.

What went wrong: All the time in and on the water meant a lot of flu and seasickness among the crew. And the shooting schedule was aggravatingly tight, forcing Brinkerhoff into combining scenes and "rolling important thematic elements into everything we could."

Comments on the cast: Real Guardies account for 23 speaking roles. Also, "Kevin loves his pauses."

Inevitable dash of pretension: The commentators periodically lay the nuts-and-bolts talk aside to indulge their thoughts on making the ocean into an character, inserting Hurricane Katrina without "overselling" it, or deconstructing the atrophying effects of action-heroism. Davis also praises his silent shots, which use images rather than words "to tell emotion." Brinkerhoff defensively notes that even silent shots are scripted, and that he writes with "as few words as I can." Davis: "Yeah, we're in the motion-picture business. The words are the garlic, the flavor, the seasonings."

Commentary in a nutshell: Davis watching a crowd scene: "There's Tynicka. There's Jeff Loftus, our advisor. And then these are all the real [Coast Guard] people together. I think you'll see my daughter and wife in a second. It's very much like Chicago politics. We try to put our families in as much as possible." Brinkerhoff: "And then you leave the writers on the cutting-room floor. I know how you roll."