And after I came off vacation /I came to roam / The land I own / And stand alone on the microphone / Daddy’s home / Open the door playtime is over
I lived in New York City for a spell. One of the most prominent things I noticed was the sheer bulk of Television and Movie advertising. When something says limited release, it really does usually mean Los Angeles or New York City, and in New York City the advertising shows. From sidewalks to skyscrapers, entertainment advertising reigns supreme in Manhattan. Because I walked a lot, I saw lots of ads on sidewalks, walls and bus stops. The bus stops were the most interesting because you would see TV, music, and movie ads there. Quite a few were interactive and “long form” because, well, you spend a lot of time waiting for the bus. One actor that figured prominently on bus stop ads (at least while I was in NYC) was Kevin Costner.
From 2006 to 2010 I saw bus stop ads and posters for: The Guardian , Mr. Brooks, Swing Vote, The New Daughter and The Company Men. I remember these not because of some sort of fancy lenticular-led-smoke-emitting bus ad, but because they all had Kevin Costner’s reassuring face (except for Mr Brooks and The New Daughter, which tried to create an atmosphere of horror in their posters). I also remember these ads because I ended up seeing all of them in a theater (except for The Guardian). Admittedly, I saw them at a theater near work where I could score discounted tickets, but I saw them in a theater in large part due to to Kevin Costner. The films were generally ok, (with Mr. Brooks and The New Daughter being my faves). The others, while not necessarily forgettable, were sort of message movies that tried to deal with current socio/cultural/economic matters in an entertaining pseudo intellectual manner that puts viewers like me to sleep. The shining light in all of these movies was Costner.
As a matter of course, though, Costner is often the shining light in some mediocre, flat and occasionally bad movies (see Om and Cleve’s reviews elsewhere on the BBoW site). Because in spite of all the negativity that surrounds his limited acting range, Costner seems to always escape unfazed and satisfied with the work he does and somehow that reassures me a bit. That this actor that seems to have the range of a “cigar store indian,” is still working and always seems to still enjoy it. He is an actor with a measured style, knows his limits and range and prefers to not stretch his abilities but rather he adapts his (seemingly) natural persona to the role at hand. For me there is little separating his renderings of Wyatt Earp (in Wyatt Earp), Robin of Locksley (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and Mr. Earl Brooks (Mr. Brooks). Those characters presented different grades of obsessed individuals that needed to arrive at an endgame (and yes, go ahead and throw in Frank Farmer, Eliot Ness, Jim Garrison and Lt. Dunbar).
With that in mind it makes perfect sense that with Dances with Wolves seemingly made Coster an “overnight” auteur. Five years in the making, DwW received a lot of negative press during it’s production. Indeed, Costner was breaking all the rules of a first time filmmaker/director. He worked with animals and children, insisted on filming outdoors and starred in the damn thing. DwW ran overbudget and came in at over THREE HOURS long. It was/is epic. And the film worked. It was a blockbuster. The movie’s unexpected success made Costner a superstar and gave the false impression that he was becoming a self-aggrandizing celebrity. Inviting a lot of haters to pick apart his professional choices and throwing shade on his efforts (as an actor and director) throughout the mid to late 90s. Costner’s response? Keep working, punks.
That’s what I love most about Costner. He works and works and works and best of all he seems to enjoy it.
In 2012, Costner (and co-star Bill Paxton) starred in the History Channel mini series, Hatfields & McCoys. Produced by Costner and directed by his cohort Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld, Robin Hood: PoT), the series is a great example of no-budget, character-driven filmmaking. It received a number of accolades, and netted Costner an emmy for best actor (making him one Tony award away from getting an EGOT). It also seemed to open up some roles for Costner. The series also sort of popped Costner back to being a “bankable” star. He started popping up in supporting roles in 2013: Man of Steel (2013) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). He also had leading roles in 3 Days to Kill , Draft Day and Black or White (all 2014). McFarland, USA is Costner’s first major role in 2015 and he as another flick later this year.
All this Costner face time stirred talks of a Costner “comeback” and people were very excited… until the movies were released. 3 Days to Kill was NOT Three Days of the Condor or even an AARP-action flick. It was a terribly directed, poorly written, action-less, sluggish mess (I swear Luc Besson has a computer program for all his scripts now), but Costner was genuinely convincing as an aging CIA operative trying to make good with his teenaged daughter. Again, I blame McG and Luc Besson. Draft Day was barely a poor man’s Moneyball (but did well box office wise) and of course Costner was perfect in the role as a journeyman sports wheeler-dealer. It suffered from a script that seemed overly complicated and felt like Ivan Reitman was sleepwalking through his directorial duties. The last two, Black or White and MacFarland (USA) were actually touted as possible Oscar fodder for Costner. All things considered, I was not a fan of either film, even though both had fine performances from the entire cast. Black or White was myopic in its storytelling (myopic in the screenplay, I should say). Macfarland (USA)… well, it actually wasn’t terrible, I think I may have just been in a bad mood. It really felt like another Costner White savior role, but even with the uneven dialogue, Costner’s characterization of the hero (Jim White, yes, seriously, his name is White) was a bit above the easily condescending trope that is the white savior (or magical negro for that matter). Of the flicks mentioned, it’s heads above them all in wholly movie terms. It’s the one that is pure Costner, likable, measured (but actually more complicated than he seems) and in total control.
The point really is this: the man likes to work. He doesn’t need a comeback. He doesn’t need to be rescued by Quentin Tarantino or Bong Joon-ho. He never quit working. His disappearance from the big screen for a few years was probably due to wanting to hang with his family or maybe make records with his band: Kevin Costner and Modern West. I don’t know because I refuse to do any real research for this post. Maybe the roles did dry up, but the enthusiasm displayed in Hatfields and McCoys shows how much he loves to work and the current movie output certainly displays a “want” to make movies that are not a mutation of the same role (thank you, Liam Neeson). Costner may be “vanilla” in his acting style and probably not the kind of actor the public wants right now (earnestly disappearing into a role). Costner may not even be the kind of actor we need these days, but I am comforted to see him chipping away and hopefully saving his pennies to produce, star and sing in the Broadway production of The Postman Dances with Wolves on the Open Range, Tony awards watch out.
Now, Kool Mo Dee.