- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

MEMORANDUM

To: Hollywood studio executive

From: An aspiring screenwriter

You may have heard that our country is at war. Hard as it is to accept the president’s word on this, there are, in fact, more than 3,000 dead Americans to prove it.

I realize war-making is not something we in Hollywood personally relish. Less still do we like to celebrate it on the big screen of late.

So I’ve hatched an idea for a movie that will, perhaps, tap into the reservoir of good will that average moviegoers have for our men and women in uniform and, in its way, speak relevantly to our current preoccupations. It is a movie, broadly speaking, about heroes — and the bravery they exhibit on a daily basis.

Wait. Please keep reading.

The story isn’t set in Iraq or Afghanistan. Rest assured, it’s set here in America.

My script (please find enclosed draft) is called “The Guardian,” and it’s about Coast Guardsmen. According to my admittedly rough calculations, the Coast Guard offends very few moviegoers. Just recently, in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the Coast Guard enjoyed very good press; in fact, it was the only government agency Mr. Lee saw fit to commend.

Given the right male action star — he shouldn’t be someone washed up (pardon the pun), like, say, Kevin Costner, nor someone callow or incredible, such as, say, Ashton Kutcher — “The Guardian” might introduce audiences to a new world of danger and derring-do. Recall how “Backdraft” (1991) dramatized the intensity of urban firefighting and “The Perfect Storm” (2000) spotlighted the high risk of commercial fishing. (That reminds me: It would be great if we could snag someone of George Clooney’s caliber for “The Guardian.”)

The Coast Guard is, it’s true, the “fifth branch” of the military, but guardsmen are rarely aggressors; they are primarily first-responders. Thus, if I’m not mistaken, they meet Hollywood’s moral threshold for justifiable military action — which is to say, action that is provoked by some unambiguous calamity. A hurricane, for instance. Or Pearl Harbor.

I must warn you my movie isn’t foolproof. The possibility of being outflanked by the political left can never be ruled out. With “The Guardian,” I see trouble brewing on three potential fronts. The first is the war on narcotics. The Coast Guard is, according to its official Web site, “a key player in combating the flow of illegal drugs to the United States.” It seizes billions of dollars’ worth of cocaine every year — a supply interruption that hits rather close to home for Southern Californians.

The second is the Coast Guard’s periodic interception of “boat people” — those wretched souls who flee countries like Haiti and Cuba. (Note: I don’t understand, either, why anyone would want to leave Cuba, with its free healthcare.) Granted, turning away people who are attempting to enter the U.S. illegally falls under the aegis of “border security,” but the treatment might seem, to those of a sensitive political disposition, needlessly cruel.

Then there’s the proverbial elephant — Iraq. The Coast Guard, it turns out, does not wholly confine its activities to maritime security or domestic search-and-rescue missions. It sails, quite literally, on foreign seas. The American Forces Press Service notes that the Coast Guard is an “active player in the war on terror.” At the height of the Iraq war, it “deployed 1,200 men and women, 11 ships and a port-security unit to the theater to conduct maritime-interception operations and coastal-security patrols.”

In all likelihood, these facts won’t affect the fate of “The Guardian.” Still, I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a scripter if I didn’t fully apprise you of them.

My movie is about high-stakes rescue swimmers, not soldiers. If it gets made, I’m hoping it does for Coasties what the archetypal “Top Gun” did for fighter pilots. True, “Top Gun” came out during the Reagan years, when esteem for the military was on the rise.

Yet, even in those winning days, Hollywood filmmakers had to be subtle. There was an enemy — the Soviet MiG pilot — but we only glimpsed him in the cockpit, obscured by sleek black helmets. The violence was bloodless, and the climactic context — a classified sideshow on the Indian Ocean — was safely abstract.

Arguably the most poignant scene in the movie featured — you guessed it — the Coast Guard. Who plucked anguished Maverick and lifeless Goose after their vertiginous plunge into the high seas?

That’s right. The Coasties did.

And I predict that if Americans loved them in 1986, they’ll love them equally in 2006.

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