The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Kevin Costner
Last week, we took a look at the brilliant but tragically short career of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. This weeks 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, hes held on as a true Hollywood survivor, and despite being in his late fifties is on the cusp of a major comeback.
If youre 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 cant tell you how many times I watched this movie as a kid. Sure, his accent was dodgy, but when I was nine I couldnt 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, Costners 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 Kevins Gate. His case wasnt helped when THE POSTMAN became a megaflop, having the misfortune to open just a few days after TITANIC. While its a punchline to many people, thats another movie thats 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 didnt 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 havent seen it in years, so I cant say if it holds up, but back then it felt totally mis-maligned. Whatever the case, it cant 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 Costners 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 Costners got something like four or five movies all due out this year. Regardless of whether these films are successful or not, its worth remembering that in his time, Costner was one of the biggest stars in the world. Even if he stopped making movies tomorrow, hed still leave behind an incredible body of work, and that deserves respect.
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? Its a masterpiece. I still think GOODFELLAS was robbed, but it cant 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).
This is a really tough one for Costner. Hes a guy thats consistently underrated, and whenever critics get a whiff that somethings not quite perfect with one of his movies they tear him to shreds. Thus, its tough to call any of his performances overrated. The closest is probably THIRTEEN DAYS. Its a good movie, but not for Costner. Bruce Greenwood is excellent as JFK, but Costner isnt quite as solid as presidential aide Kenny ODonnell. Accents have never been Costners strong suit, but his Boston accent here is something else. Wow. Otherwise hes fine but he cant help but feel miscast.
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 its a relief that director Kevin Reynolds had him drop it midway through shooting. Costner also cant 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 Scotts recent version with Russell Crowe. Costner makes for a dashing hero, even if hes a little too contemporary (for the time) with his mullet. Still, I cant 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 Scotts hands and recut into a romance by the producers. In Scotts directors 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 havent seen the Tony Scott-cut of this, youll be amazed at what a tough movie this is.
In BULL DURHAM, Costners 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.
Costners 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 Costners always nailed) thats been getting a lot of really good buzz.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...