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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Kevin Costner

02.17.2014

Last week, we took a look at the brilliant but tragically short career of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. This week’s subject is an actor whose career has had many ups and downs - going from stratospheric heights to crushing lows - often from one film to the next. Through it all, he’s held on as a true Hollywood survivor, and despite being in his late fifties is on the cusp of a major comeback.

Kevin Costner

If you’re a certain age, you were weaned on the films of Kevin Costner. Having been born in ’81, all through my adolescence Costner was the man. Back in ’91 - thanks to ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES - the guy was my hero. I can’t tell you how many times I watched this movie as a kid. Sure, his accent was dodgy, but when I was nine I couldn’t care less. THE BODYGUARD, for all its schmaltz was also a big hit in my household. Around this time, THE UNTOUCHABLES made its TV debut, and after catching it on CBS one night, it quickly became another favorite. Heck, despite only being ten when I saw it - and only vaguely understanding the history behind it - I even liked JFK (and I grew to like it much more as the years went on even if some of the conspiracy has been disproved)

Sadly, Costner’s career began to taper off a bit around the time WATERWORLD starting making headlines for its budget overruns. Truth be told, WATERWORLD is actually a pretty damn decent film, but it was destroyed by the mainstream press, who called it “Fishtar” and “Kevin’s Gate”. His case wasn’t helped when THE POSTMAN became a megaflop, having the misfortune to open just a few days after TITANIC. While it’s a punchline to many people, that’s another movie that’s not altogether awful. I remember holing up in a movie theater in early ’98 during the famous Montreal Ice Storm. School was cancelled for weeks, and my house had been out of power for days. One day my parents had to work, but they didn’t want me freezing my ass off all afternoon, so they dropped me off at the local movie theater and I chose THE POSTMAN mostly for its length, as it would occupy my whole day. And ya know, I kinda liked it. I haven’t seen it in years, so I can’t say if it holds up, but back then it felt totally mis-maligned. Whatever the case, it can’t be denied Costner made a self-indulgent film. Oddly, WATERWORLD and THE POSTMAN are both heavily derivative of THE ROAD WARRIOR and MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, which makes you wonder if Costner was secretly a major MAD MAX fan.

Underrated or not, THE POSTMAN badly damaged Costner’s cachet as a leading man, and outside a couple of indie roles, and the occasional sleeper like OPEN RANGE, things were quiet for him until he did THE HATFIELDS & THE MCCOYS’ for History TV. That was a big enough hit that it sent Costner on the comeback trail, and Costner’s got something like four or five movies all due out this year. Regardless of whether these films are successful or not, it’s worth remembering that in his time, Costner was one of the biggest stars in the world. Even if he stopped making movies tomorrow, he’d still leave behind an incredible body of work, and that deserves respect.

His Best Film

For years, I refused to watch DANCES WITH WOLVES. Sure, I saw it as a kid, but as a teen/adult, I swore it was overrated. No doubt, this was a reaction to the fact that it beat GOODFELLAS for best picture at the Oscars. GOODFELLAS is probably my favorite film of all-time, so for years I resented DANCES, until coming upon the Blu-ray one day when it was on sale. I picked it up and watched the movie for the first time in twenty years and you know what? It’s a masterpiece. I still think GOODFELLAS was robbed, but it can’t be denied Costner made a pretty wonderful film, and an all-out western classic. Not only is Costner great in it as the conflicted union soldier who finds love and acceptance with a Native tribe, but the man did a hell of a job directing it too. DANCES is shot like a John Ford western, and is chockfull of amazing set-pieces like the buffalo hunt, all set to an amazing musical score by John Barry (arguably his best ever).

His Most Overrated Film

This is a really tough one for Costner. He’s a guy that’s consistently underrated, and whenever critics get a whiff that something’s not quite perfect with one of his movies they tear him to shreds. Thus, it’s tough to call any of his performances overrated. The closest is probably THIRTEEN DAYS. It’s a good movie, but not for Costner. Bruce Greenwood is excellent as JFK, but Costner isn’t quite as solid as presidential aide Kenny O’Donnell. Accents have never been Costner’s strong suit, but his Boston accent here is something else. Wow. Otherwise he’s fine but he can’t help but feel miscast.

His Most Underrated Film

This is more like it. Costner is consistently underrated by his critics. Lots of his movies have been unfairly attacked, chief among them WATERWORLD, which is far, far better than its reputation suggests. However, I have an especially soft spot for ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THEIVES. While a box-office megahit, Costner was savaged for his inconsistent accent. To be fair, his accent is so bad that it’s a relief that director Kevin Reynolds had him drop it midway through shooting. Costner also can’t help that Alan Rickman all but walks away with the film as the hilariously evil Sherriff of Nottingham. Otherwise, this is a pretty superb adventure movie, and a much more effective updating of the Robin Hood mythos than Ridley Scott’s recent version with Russell Crowe. Costner makes for a dashing hero, even if he’s a little too contemporary (for the time) with his mullet. Still, I can’t imagine anyone not being entertained by this. Also, the score by Michael Kamen is top-notch.

Another really underrated film is REVENGE, which he did with Tony Scott. One of the reasons for this may be that the theatrical version was a pretty languid affair, with it being taken out of Scott’s hands and recut into a romance by the producers. In Scott’s director’s cut, you can see the tough, sexy thriller he was going for, and Costner gives a pretty hard performance. In his younger days, it was tough to accept Costner as a badass, but Scott makes him one here, with his pretty face getting bashed-up good, and surrounding him with an amazing supporting cast including the scorching Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Quinn (who really benefits from the new cut), Miguel Ferrer, and a brilliant James Gammon. If you haven’t seen the Tony Scott-cut of this, you’ll be amazed at what a tough movie this is.

His Most Memorable Scene

In BULL DURHAM, Costner’s chemistry with the sultry Susan Sarandon (incredibly sexy) is red-hot, and nowhere is this more apparent than when his “Crash” Davis gives her a much-needed lecture on what matters most to him. A brilliant scene in a wonderful film.

His Top-Five Performances

5. JFK
4. BULL DURHAM
3. FIELD OF DREAMS
2. THE UNTOUCHABLES
1. DANCES WITH WOLVES

Up Next

Costner’s a busy guy these days. On Friday, his McG actioner 3 DAYS TO KILL hits theaters, which seems to be an attempt to turn him into a Liam Neeson-style badass. Next is DRAFT DAY, a MONEYBALL-style sports movie (a genre Costner’s always nailed) that’s been getting a lot of really good buzz.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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7:20PM on 02/18/2014

3000 Miles to Graceland

I always liked that movie for some reason. Prince of Thieves was the same thing in my house growing up, I revisited it recently and it still fucking rocks!
I always liked that movie for some reason. Prince of Thieves was the same thing in my house growing up, I revisited it recently and it still fucking rocks!
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12:13AM on 02/18/2014

ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES underrated???

Sorry, you lost me there. I thought he was easily the worst thing in an otherwise excellent movie - I heard he tried to limit Alan Rickman's screen time because he knew Rickman was blowing him away. I consider BULL DURHAM or SILVERADO to have his most underrated roles.

Kevin Costner is not the most flexible actor - other castmembers have overshadowed him, and his ego has hurt him a few times - but, when he gets the right role, he nails it.

P.S. - If you haven't done Gary Oldman for this
Sorry, you lost me there. I thought he was easily the worst thing in an otherwise excellent movie - I heard he tried to limit Alan Rickman's screen time because he knew Rickman was blowing him away. I consider BULL DURHAM or SILVERADO to have his most underrated roles.

Kevin Costner is not the most flexible actor - other castmembers have overshadowed him, and his ego has hurt him a few times - but, when he gets the right role, he nails it.

P.S. - If you haven't done Gary Oldman for this column, I think you should. He's an incredible actor.
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7:23PM on 02/17/2014
He is very underrated, but my favorite performance by him is in "Mr. Brooks". Simply perfect, and I have never seen him be that dark before.
He is very underrated, but my favorite performance by him is in "Mr. Brooks". Simply perfect, and I have never seen him be that dark before.
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6:49PM on 02/17/2014
You forgot to mention Mr. Brooks which is by far one if his better movies. In the last decade
You forgot to mention Mr. Brooks which is by far one if his better movies. In the last decade
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10:36AM on 02/17/2014
i love Robin Hood don't care what anyone thinks and i even think Open Range is his best work as both an actor and director

but one thing...why no mention of Field Of Dreams or Tin Cup?
i love Robin Hood don't care what anyone thinks and i even think Open Range is his best work as both an actor and director

but one thing...why no mention of Field Of Dreams or Tin Cup?
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+2
10:17AM on 02/17/2014
No way, A Perfect World is easily his most underrated film. An incredible actor, one of the all time greats!
No way, A Perfect World is easily his most underrated film. An incredible actor, one of the all time greats!
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8:34AM on 02/17/2014
Kevin Costner isn't the greatest actor that ever lived. But until The Postman he was one of the best bets. In more recent years he's turned in some surprisingly colorful performances in less-than-stellar movies (3000 Miles to Graceland is a POS, and even Kurt Russell phones it in, but Costner chews the scenery like I never knew he could). Another role I would put among his best is Butch Haynes in A Perfect World.
Kevin Costner isn't the greatest actor that ever lived. But until The Postman he was one of the best bets. In more recent years he's turned in some surprisingly colorful performances in less-than-stellar movies (3000 Miles to Graceland is a POS, and even Kurt Russell phones it in, but Costner chews the scenery like I never knew he could). Another role I would put among his best is Butch Haynes in A Perfect World.
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6:28AM on 02/17/2014

meh.

I dont love nor hate him. I enjoy movies hes in but not for him.
I dont love nor hate him. I enjoy movies hes in but not for him.
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+5
5:48AM on 02/17/2014
I'm not really a Costner fan, or at least I wasn't really a fan of his heyday period (the late 80s through mid 90s). Compared to some of the other big movie stars churning out box office hits in that same era (Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis), I think he came up short in acting, screen presence, and charisma. His performance in Robin Hood still makes me cringe. That said, he has admittedly delivered a few solid performances recently. I thought he was quite good in Hatfield & McCoys
I'm not really a Costner fan, or at least I wasn't really a fan of his heyday period (the late 80s through mid 90s). Compared to some of the other big movie stars churning out box office hits in that same era (Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis), I think he came up short in acting, screen presence, and charisma. His performance in Robin Hood still makes me cringe. That said, he has admittedly delivered a few solid performances recently. I thought he was quite good in Hatfield & McCoys and he was fantastic in Man of Steel.
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+1
3:22AM on 02/17/2014
Favorite actor.
Favorite actor.
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2:31AM on 02/17/2014

Is it just me?

The film of his I enjoy most is Robin Hood but I'm not a big fan of Costner as I feel like his performances are stilted and his presence ultimately bland and lacking any sort of charisma. I feel like any actor could play any of the parts Costner has played, whereas not just any actor could portray a role like Indiana Jones. I do like a lot of the films he is in but not because of him.
The film of his I enjoy most is Robin Hood but I'm not a big fan of Costner as I feel like his performances are stilted and his presence ultimately bland and lacking any sort of charisma. I feel like any actor could play any of the parts Costner has played, whereas not just any actor could portray a role like Indiana Jones. I do like a lot of the films he is in but not because of him.
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1:45AM on 02/17/2014
He's very good in No Way Out. Yes, it has something of a silly twist, but on the whole it's a good 80s thriller and Costner makes an excellent leading man in it. Great that you gave Revenge a shout-out too. At the end of the day though, I think he's just okay and this rather wooden moment still gets a chuckle every time. [link]
He's very good in No Way Out. Yes, it has something of a silly twist, but on the whole it's a good 80s thriller and Costner makes an excellent leading man in it. Great that you gave Revenge a shout-out too. At the end of the day though, I think he's just okay and this rather wooden moment still gets a chuckle every time. [link]
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1:04AM on 02/17/2014
Costner is a great leading man. He can literally play any role. The only Costner movie that I didn't like is The Postman. Everything about that movie is overwhelming and storytelling got lost along the way. My favorite Costner's movies are JFK, The Untouchables and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I agree with bigred760 below. At the time, Robin Hood was pretty much a big movie pretty much due to Costner playing Robin Hood. I'd say his most underrated movie is Mr. Brook. He was very scary in that
Costner is a great leading man. He can literally play any role. The only Costner movie that I didn't like is The Postman. Everything about that movie is overwhelming and storytelling got lost along the way. My favorite Costner's movies are JFK, The Untouchables and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I agree with bigred760 below. At the time, Robin Hood was pretty much a big movie pretty much due to Costner playing Robin Hood. I'd say his most underrated movie is Mr. Brook. He was very scary in that movie.
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12:53AM on 02/17/2014
Great actor.

Even though he died in Man of Steel, I would still love to see him show up in future Superman films in flashbacks (obviously). He was easily one of the best parts of the film and his death scene was beautifully done.
Great actor.

Even though he died in Man of Steel, I would still love to see him show up in future Superman films in flashbacks (obviously). He was easily one of the best parts of the film and his death scene was beautifully done.
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3:12AM on 02/17/2014
Probably one of the few roles you have saw him in.
Probably one of the few roles you have saw him in.
6:44AM on 02/17/2014
Yes, his death scene with the flying cows was truly moving.
Yes, his death scene with the flying cows was truly moving.
8:56AM on 02/17/2014
@Soloist - I enjoyed that scene too and thought he was one of the better things about the movie. @Van-damages82 - Bizarre schoolyard response. If you disagree with someone maybe try not attacking people and come up with an intelligent reason.
@Soloist - I enjoyed that scene too and thought he was one of the better things about the movie. @Van-damages82 - Bizarre schoolyard response. If you disagree with someone maybe try not attacking people and come up with an intelligent reason.
+12
12:38AM on 02/17/2014
I love Kevin Costner movies, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is his most underrated? That's the best you could think of?

Watch Mr. Brooks and the great performance he delivers there. He and William Hurt are great playing off each other. Even Dane Cook is watchable in the movie. THAT is his most underrated movie.

Costner is also one of the few Hollywood Stars to have never (to date) done a sequel.
I love Kevin Costner movies, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is his most underrated? That's the best you could think of?

Watch Mr. Brooks and the great performance he delivers there. He and William Hurt are great playing off each other. Even Dane Cook is watchable in the movie. THAT is his most underrated movie.

Costner is also one of the few Hollywood Stars to have never (to date) done a sequel.
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