In Praise of Kevin Costner
If you read a lot about movies and directors, there is a good chance you have come across the species commonly known as “Costner basher”. Now, to be clear, I love to bash certain people, and it is one of the declared goals of Furious Cinema to do just that (our pinata is Michael Bay). Some people make us furious, mad as hell. At the same time however, we passionately jump in to defend those unjustly bashed. Kevin Costner is such an individual. An actor, producer and director involved in a multitude of film works of varying quality and followership. To cut a long story short: A lot of people bash Costner – a lot. And I think that is unfair, and let me give you a few reasons to really love Kevin Costner and the amazing things he has done for the world of cinema.
Dances with Wolves is a seminal if not epochal period piece about a particularly bitter aspect of American history. It is one of the greatest Pocahontas-like stories ever put to the big screen, and especially in its vastly superior Extended Version an absolutely epic tale about the collision between the European invaders and the Native American tragedy. Costner made a magnificent film, that starts out as a lousy war drama about the Civil War, turns into a one-man show and evolves into a breathtaking societal study of humans and nature, with great imagery, music and human emotion. In my opinion one of the best movies ever made, and of so many facets one could analyze it from all sorts of angles. That was Costner at the peak of his creativity. Trivia: 500 Nations and Costner’s personal efforts with and beyond Dances with Wolves have brought back the topic into the public in the 1990s and especially his documentary did a lot of educational work.
Perfect World is a Forrest Gump type movie that has broad public appeal but is also tremendously socio-critical and well written. I will never forget this movie, its tragic end and the magic between the little fella in the Casper the Friendly Ghost costume and Costner, who plays quite an anti-hero or fallen character type of guy. A heart-wrenching story that makes for great prime time entertainment, now in the DVD and post-DVD age. To this day I am thinking of just having toast with mustard as a snack.
Open Range I could talk about for hours. In my opinion it is one of the absolutely best modern westerns ever made. Not only is it terrific and realistic, it has a period piece atmosphere and yet it is something of a cowboy fantasy, gunfights included. And what gunfights. The showdown that is OK Corral-esque is a thundering climax of an altogether magnificent motion picture in which Costner plays a veteran gun hand, a very complicated character in fact, that struggles to balance between the open range and the settled world. I am absolutely in love with this flick, I think it is a magnificent directorial effort and great to look at and enjoy as an epic. See also The Western Ain’t Dead blog post.
Waterworld. Hah, I said it. The most controversial one on my list, and let me tell you why it is still on it. Yes they might have squandered millions with this flick, and yes the end result is a family-friendly mess that misses a lot of the grittiness and geekdom of the director’s original vision, and yes it was handed to Costner when Reynolds threw in the towel. BUT it is still an extremely original post-apocalyptic piece of cinema, in its own way still not surpassed, and has a lot of cool moments in it, and great imagery. I have not seen the director’s cut yet, which is out on BluRay and DVD, but since it is the TV version it is still not hundred percent the director’s vision, since it remains edited for language and violence. Waterworld is a weird movie but original and it, that establishes its own little post-apocalyptic universe, and that’s why I love it. And there is Dennis Hopper
The Untouchables is a showcase for what DePalma can do when he’s in form. I am saying this because I am not an all out Brian dePalma fan. Costner plays a most convincing Elliot Ness, in a movie that has all sorts of amazing actors, a brilliant score by the almighty maestro Morricone, and some really cool action. This was a young Costner, who combined charme, grit and a certain innocence probably comparable to today’s Matt Damon appearance. But different. Whatever. Haven’t met anyone in my life who didn’t like this movie
Prince of Thieves. Despite all the other reincarnations of this old story, his Robin is still the one that I associate Robin Hood, the literary character, with. Same goes for Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Notingham. It is a goofy movie, with some unwatchable scenes with a witch and some other things thrown in there that ruin the whole “let us make a realistic action movie Robin Hood fairy tale” concept. They rehashed that last year with Crowe, but also failed. The thing is that Robin Hood is a fairy tale, and it is hard to strike a nice balance between fairy tale and realism. I think Costner was a fantastic Robin Hood, if not one of the best roles he ever played.
I like Wyatt Earp a lot better than Tombstone and I think it is funny that there are two high profile ensemble cast films out there telling the same story, and they are working on another I hear. Wyatt Earp brings a nice family perspective to the story and I think it is cast a lot better than its competitor. I think Costner conveyed very well the complexities and tensions, while Tombstone was a lot more cleaned and main stream. If you asked me which one to watch tonight, I would pick Wyatt Earp over Tombstone any day.
Thirteen Days is only secondarily a Costner movie but I am listing it here because I found his character very convincing and the movie as such a great example of how you can turn a diplomatic topic into a suspenseful movie while staying very accurate. I find those Boston accents quite enjoyable as well. The movie has a lot of problems too, but I think it was a great approach to tackle the topic and Costner almost overshadowed the Kennedy character in this because he had a presence that some might call “gravitas”. Kind of like Michael Sheen in The West Wing, in fact I think Costner could play the US President if he wanted to and it would be a convincing representation.
3000 Miles to Graceland is something of a nugget. Not only has the director made mostly low budget b-movie stuff throughout his career and it is a wonder how he got so many stars to sign up for this, it is actually not bad of a movie. In fact, it has a lot of things you would expect from a movie about Elvis fans and criminals in a roadmovie. It is a nice guilty pleasure and proper guys hang out with beers late night flick that I enjoy for the performances, including Costner, as much as for the entire picture’s rock and roll vibe. So much fun I am including the trailer here:
I probably left a few great entries in his filmography. I have a bad memory, but I also left a few aside on purpose. Such as Silverado, which I don’t like at all or The Bodyguard, which I always liked but I think anyone could have played that role. Did Kevin Costner make a few wrong career choices, trust a few bad screenwriters or starred in movies that ended up being not so great? Sure, but hey, that happens to a lot of people. Postman was – despite my love for post-apocalyptic cinema (a genre I would love to dive into for Furious Cinema at some point) – an underachieving, badly written TV-ishly looking movie, that had some nice ideas but ultimately fell flat on its face. I will rewatch it at some point and that will probably upgrade it and I would then have to include it on my list, but chances for that are slim. Overall, Kevin Costner contributed a lot to American cinema and I say shame on all of you indiscriminate bashers out there. The few stinkers he has been in can hardly overshadow the tremendous work he has contributed. I hope you enjoyed my trip to Costner land and I am looking forward to reading your comments below. On a side note, my friend Rama wrote a nice review of the recent BluRay edition of Dances With Wolves, read it here.