Movies In Focus

Kevin Costner – The Last Of The Hollywood Cowboys

Born on the 18 January, 1955, Kevin Costner was an avid film fan who up in California. Fascinated by epic westerns such as Red River and How the West Was Won, he dreamed of being cowboy (a dream that would be fulfilled many years later). Following his marriage to his High School sweetheart in 1978 Costner plunged himself into becoming an actor, starring in a series of plays and low budget films.

Costner’s break into major films came in 1983’s The Big Chill. Although his scenes were later cut from the film, director Lawrence Kasdan was so impressed by the young actor that he promised to keep him in mind for a role in one of his later films. This led to Costner’s casting in the western Silverado, a role that stood out, even though Costner was acting alongside more established actors like Scott Glenn, Kevin Klein and John Cleese.

Costner was now a hot commodity and he followed up his star making role with the cold war thriller No Way Out co-starring Gene Hackman and Brian De Palma’s Oscar-winning epic gangster film The Untouchables. The Untouchables showed that Kevin Costner was a fully fledged leading man and his charisma shone through, even when sharing the screen with Hollywood legends like Robert De Niro and Sean Connery (who won an Oscar for his performance in the film). The film was a box office smash and Costner would follow it up with two of his most iconic films baseball dramas Bull Durham and Field of Dreams.

Director Phil Alden Robinson‘s Field of Dreams has developed legendary status due to the line “If you build it he will come”. The film, based on W. P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel, Shoeless Joe tells the story of an Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella ( Kevin Costner) who hears a voice that tells him to build a baseball diamond in his field. He complies and goes on a journey of self discovery that brings hope and excitement to his friends and family. A critical and commercial hit on its release Field Of Dreams solidified Kevin Costner’s leading man status as he entered the 1990s.

It’s an enduring piece of cinema with sparkling supporting turns from Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster (in his last screen appearance). In the novel J.D. Salinger is the reclusive writer that Kinsella seeks out, but the character was changed to the fictional Terence Mann for the film. Field Of Dreams is a lot of things – but most of all, it’s a film with a tremendous amount of heart. 

Revenge directed by Tony Scott as his follow up to Beverly Hills Cop 2 was a box office flop. A hard edged action-drama co-starring Madeline Stowe and Anthony Quinn it was little too violent for the (mostly female) Costner fan base of the time. Today it stands out as a minor gem and I urge you to seek it out on television or on DVD.

In dealing with his first major flop, Costner decided to turn to directing, turning down acting roles in films like The Hunt for Red October he partly financed the film based on his friend Michael Blake’s novel; Dances With Wolves. Critic and Hollywood insiders mocked Costner’s faith in the film and they said that it was an over blown vanity project. Before it’s release it was known as Kevin’s Gate (after the legendary flop western Heaven’s Gate) and Costner’s Last Stand (after the legendary Battle of Little Big Horn).

Costner proved his critics wrong and the film and the three hour film went on to gross over $400 million worldwide, impressive my today’s standards, amazing when you consider that the film was released in 1990.Dances With Wolves also swept the board at the Academy Awards in 1991, winning seven awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Costner, Best Adapted  Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Sound Mixing.

With the 1990’s off to a blockbusting start, Costner continued to make hit after hit, with critical and commercial favourites such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Bodyguard (which re-teamed him with Lawrence Kasdan) and Oliver Stone’s highly controversial JFK.

Love it or loathe it, but you can’t talk about Robin Hood movies without mentioning Kevin Costner‘s Robin Hood : Prince of Thieves. The Kevin Reyndolds directed film stars Costner at the peak of his early nineties powers; full of charm, swash and buckle. Okay, so he hasn’t got an English accent, but he does have Morgan Freeman at his side and well cast bunch of merry men.  

The film is also a standout for Alan Rickman‘s scene stealing performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham. He’s got the style and ham of a pantomime villain and he makes the film immensely watch-able. Of course when the history books are written, Costner and Rickman won’t even be mentioned; it’ll be Bryan Adams massive hit single that was released from the soundtrack that grabs all of the attention. Released in the summer of 1991, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves grossed over $165 million at the US box office and more than $390 million globally. 

The Bodyguard is a movie which managed to capture lightening in a bottle. The 1992 romantic-thriller was based on a 15 year-old script by Lawrence Kasdan, which was originally intended to star Steve McQueen and Diana Ross. However, the film managed to secure the then scorching-hot combination of Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, becoming a massive box office hit and a musical phenomenon in the process. 

The Bodyguard saw Costner play Frank Farmer, former Secret Service agent who takes on the job of bodyguard to the singer/actress Rachel Marron (Houston). The Mick Jackson directed pic went on to gross $122 million at the US box office and more than $411 million globally.

A master stroke of filmmaking, JFK stands beside All The Presidents Men as not only an excellent political film, but also one of the greatest studio pictures ever made. The Warner Bros. of today would never finance such a controversial film, and that is one of the reasons why it is so special.

All of these films are classics in their own genre and all were very successful. Costner was now an international superstar at the top of the Hollywood A-list ladder. They only way for him to go was down.

There’s only one thing that the press like to do more than build people up and that’s knock them down. Following the release of A Perfect World which was directed by and co-starred Clint Eastwood in 1993 Costner re-teamed with Lawrence Kasdan for yet another western Wyatt Earp (a biopic of the famous frontier lawman). With a lavish budget and a cast that included Gene Hackman and Dennis Quaid the film was expected to be yet another huge success for Costner. However Wyatt Earp was beaten to the cinemas by Tombstone, a more adventurous take on the material that starred Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. The films three hour running time betrayed its origins as a television miniseries and the film failed at the box office, yet it did get good reviews for Quaid’s performance as Doc Holliday. Yet again dubbed Kevin’s Gate by the press (so good they used it twice) Costner shouldered most of the blame for the films failure, yet he couldn’t have prepared himself for what would come next.

Waterworld is often seen as one of Hollywood’s legendary bombs (even though it actually made money). The Kevin Reynolds directed release had a production budget of $175 million and took another $50 million to market. It grossed over $264 million globally, making $88 million at the US box office following its release on 28 July 1995. The Kevin Costner starrer was the 10th highest grossing film of the year in the US and the 9th highest grossing global title of the year. It also went on to make a killing on home video and other ancillaries.

The 1995 film was the third collaboration between Reynolds and Costner following Fandangoand Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (they  would go on to make Hatfields & McCoys in 2012.

Waterworld was mauled by the entertainment press because of its budget – even though Universal Pictures knew how much it was going to cost – but they didn’t want to be the first studio to green-light a film with a budget north of $100 million. 

It’s the film that truly threw action films into the mega-budget realm. Plagued by delays, accidents and sinking sets the budget of the film spiralled out of control and although it was supposed to cost “only” $100 million, it eventually cost $175 million. What gets lost in all this talk about the film’s budget, is that we often overlook how good it is.  A Mad Max-style action-adventure set in a post apocalyptic earth after the polar icecaps have melted, the film is made in the vein of old Hollywood pirate films. It’s thrilling, exciting and rather fun.

In an attempt to get his career back on track he joined forces with his Bull Durham director Ron Shelton and made golfing comedy Tin Cup. The film co starred Rene Russo, Don Johnson and Cheech Marin. A hit on its release, the film helped Costner claim back some commercial and critical favour.

In 1997 the release of The Postman delivered another blow to Costner’s career. The film, Costner’s second directorial effort was yet another post-apocalyptic action adventure, only this time with a futuristic western feel. A huge flop on release (it grossed $17 million from a $90 million budget) The Postman was again slammed by the critics, the film however is a highly enjoyable and old fashioned , if a tad over long.

1999 saw the release of another two Costner films, Message in a Bottle, an old style weepy co-starring yet another Hollywood legend Paul Newman. The film was a commercial success, but few critics were charmed by the nautical tale. Costner returned to more familiar territory with Sam Raimi’s baseball drama For Love of The Game. The film’s performance was however hampered by Costner’s public falling out with Universal Pictures over the direction that the film should take during the editing process and many of the reviews alluded to this.

The start of the 21st century saw something of an upturn with the release of the critically lauded Thirteen Days, a historical drama charting the Cuban missile crisis. The film once again reunited Costner with a director he worked with previously, No Way Out’s Roger Donaldson. Costner then teamed with fellow Wyatt Earp Kurt Russell for 2001’s box office bomb 3000 Miles To Graceland. The film tells the tale of a robbery during an Elvis convention in Las Vegas and Costner gives a fun performance as the villain of the piece. Although critically mauled on its release the film is quite a stylish action film with a top tier cast.

2002’s Dragonfly was another change of pace for Costner as it was supernatural thriller in the mould of The Sixth Sense, however he followed it with one his finest films; Open Range which was released in 2003. This was yet another directorial effort and another western, critics and audiences were unanimous with praise, with the film which features a violent and powerful shootout in its climax. Costner’s next two films were the quirky comedies The Upside of Anger and Rumour Has It. The former, directed by Mike Binder was praised for Costner’s strong performance as (what else) a retired baseball player .

The Guardian co-starring Ashton Kutcher saw Costner take to the waves once again as a lifeguard and mentor in this Top Gun style drama. The film was a commercial success and introduced Costner to a new generation of cinema-goers, while Mr Brooks saw him return to the role of villain as the eerie title character opposite Demi Moore, although the film was far from successful.He touched on politics again in the political comedy Swing Vote, and then made the economic drama The Company Men opposite Ben Affleck.

In 2012, Costner’s western mini-series Hatfields and McCoys became the “No. 1 non-sports telecast in ad-supported cable television history” scored  13.9 million viewers during its first airing on History.The first part in the three part series actually had 17 million viewers in total-when its second airing is taken into account-another very impressive number. The next two instalments continued the ratings win and the show was a huge critical and financial success. 

Zack Snyder’s 2013, Man Of Steel charts the Superman origin story in a non-linear fashion (like Batman Begins), offering a unique slant on the story. It covers many of the plot points from the Richard Donner films, but gives it much more of a sci-fi orientated spin. The Krypton of Man of Steel has more in common with George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels than the icy crystal landscapes of Donner’s world. In fact, there are many elements of the Krypton scenes that are very reminiscent of Lucas’s second trilogy of Star Wars films. The gunships, creature design, inter-galactic politics (and even some CGI camera work) brings to mind Attack of the Clones. Could now be the time when Lucas’ Star Wars prequels have started to feed into the filmmaking psyche like the original films did?

Few actors would be able to replace Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman’s birth father, but Russell Crowe manages to do it. He adds gravitas to the character and his role is much bigger than you would expect (but more on that later). Kevin Costner is Man of Steel’s emotional core. He brings the baggage of his onscreen persona to Jonathan Kent. It’s an underplayed and small role, but he’s the beating heart of the film, and he gives it its humanity.

Before John Krasinski took on the role, Chris Pine followed in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck and played Tom Clancy’s hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Kenneth Branagh’s 2014 film rebooted the franchise, ditching Clancy’s source material to deliver a high octane thriller.

The stand-out supporting character in the film is Kevin Costner’s William Harper, Ryan’s handler and unlike his protégé, he’s more used to action. Costner shines in the role and we get to see why he’s such a great movie star – and why producer Mace Neufeld originally wanted him to portray Ryan in The Hunt For Red October

3 Days To Kill saw Kevin Costner kick ass and take names whilst taking in the sights of Paris and looking cool in the process. This might sound like a Taken clone, but it’s more of a jovial spy-romp than a hard-edge revenge tale. It helps that Costner has more on-screen charisma in his little finger than Liam Neeson does in his massive frame.

Over the last several years Costner has mixed things-up with such diverse films as  Mike Binder’s Black and White (2012), Hidden Figures (2016) and the 2019 Netflix thriller The Highwaymen (opposite Woody Harrelson).

However, in recent years Kevin Costner has achieved massive success on the small screen in the break-out drama, Yellowstone. Currently on its fourth season, the Taylor Sheridan created series focuses on the many the conflicts between Costner’s cattle ranch and the inhabitants of bordering Indian reservation. The neo-western’s ratings continue to climb and at the time of writing, Yellowstone is one of the most popular television dramas in the United States. 

With a career spanning almost forty years, Kevin Costner has seen his fair share of ups and downs, however he has shown incredibility and endurance as a leading man. He makes brave choices and is often willing to swim against the current Hollywood trends, and unlike most A-list actors he has never made a sequel to any of his films, amazing when you look at some of the roles that he could have returned to. Costner’s career continues to thrive and he has become one of cinema’s elder-statesmen, adding gravitas to any film or show in which he appears. At the age of 67, Kevin Costner has many more years and many more performances to give.

 

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