Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Kevin Costner

A handsome, amiable leading man with a stoic, deadpan style, Costner was cast as Alex, the dead friend to be fondly remembered in flashbacks, in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" (1983), but his performance ended up on the cutting-room floor. In recompense, Kasdan gave him the prominent, flashy role of the wild gunfighter Jake in the action-packed Western "Silverado" (1985). Costner cemented his reputation as a popular romantic lead and a major Hollywood star with solid performances in Roger Donaldson's political thriller, "No Way Out" (1987), Ron Shelton's steamy baseball romance, "Bull Durham" (1988) and Phil Alden Robinson's sentimental baseball fantasy, "Field of Dreams" (1989). Equally comfortable in a variety of genres, his aura of straightforward common virtue has earned him comparisons with Gary Cooper.

Costner made an assured directing debut with the richly detailed if lengthy, "Dances With Wolves" (1990). The film was a surprise blockbuster and a landmark in the representation of American Indians in Hollywood. It went on to win seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner. Firmly established as one of the biggest box-office draws of the 90s, he continued to attract sizable audiences to his films, whether critically lauded ("J.F.K" 1991) or otherwise ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" 1991; "The Bodyguard" 1992). Costner abandoned his patented heroic persona for the Clint Eastwood-directed "A Perfect World" (1993), portraying a charismatic but mentally unbalanced escaped con who takes a young boy hostage and embarks upon a wild road trip. Costner displayed a roguish charm and a dangerous edge that had been missing in his performances since his early work. Though the film garnered mixed reviews and only moderate box-office returns, his performance was widely cited as one of the best of his career.

Costner brought a new spin to the legendary sheriff in Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp" (1994, which he also co-produced), emphasizing the simple family man whose early loss of a young wife had a strong influence on his later career as a lawman. It was a role well-suited to the icy distance Costner can bring to a performance. Family was also a strong theme in "The War" (1994), with the actor playing a returning Vietnam-era vet who seeks to build a better life for his wife and children. In a supporting role, Costner plays a tortured soul trying to teach his young son the value of lessons he learned during the war. Even with the Costner drawing power, neither 1994 released attracted much box office activity. Costner finished off the year as co-producer of the period adventure "Rapa Nui", a box office flop directed by Kevin Reynolds.

Costner chose a sci-fi action epic for his next vehicle as a star-producer, reuniting with Reynolds for "Waterworld" (1995), a post-apocalyptic "Mad Max" on water, starring as the half-man/half-amphibian protagonist. After a memorably troubled shoot in the waters off Hawaii, plagued by delays end mishaps—the most spectacular being the lavish set sinking to the bottom of the Pacific—the production wrapped in early 1995. The budget reportedly soared to as high as $180 million, making it the then-costliest film ever made. Industry wags were already referring to it as "Kevin's Gate" and "Fishtar" before post-production was complicated by Reynolds quitting over creative differences with Costner and the studio on the film's editing and content, just three months before the scheduled July 28th release date. Reportedly neither Costner nor MCA deemed the director's cut worthy of test-screening as their deadline loomed. "Waterworld" was hardly the disaster predicted by industry insiders as it earned some respectable reviews and a modest box office, eventually breaking even.

Costner made a return to the slyly sexy rogues in Ron Shelton's "Tin Cup" (1996), playing a golf pro, but the costly film merely broke even. A bigger disappointment was his second directorial effort, the three-hour would-be epic "The Postman" (1997). Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the film was hurt by a misleading trailer and negative reviews and became one of the high-profile failures of late 1997 with pundits questioning the future of Costner's directorial career.

The next several years saw Costner taking on a variety of roles, none of which served to give his career the boost that was needed after his damaging flops. He starred in a romantic comedy ("Message in a Bottle") and another baseball film ("For the Love of the Game") in 1999 and then went for a political drama in the 2000 Cuban missile crisis film "Thirteen Days." He next tried for an action comedy in 2001 with "3000 Miles to Graceland" and then starred in the thriller "Dragonfly" in 2002. All these roles came and went without leaving a mark in the minds of moviegoers. They were not the super disasters that "Waterworld" and "The Postman" were, they were simply forgettable.

Costner did not let these setbacks discourage him; providing a share of the financing to get the movie made, he returned to the director's in the retro-Western "Open Range" (2003), in which he also co-starred with age-appropriate love interest Annette Bening as well as Robert Duvall. The film, which centers on a trio of free-range cattle drivers who run afoul of a hard-as-nails frontier sheriff, celebrated many of the traditions of traditional Western films and polarized critics: many praised the old school iconography, respectful and deliberate pace and the dramatic, climactic gunfight; others believed Costner's characteristic languid pace—at 138 minutes—and adherence to tradition derailed the finer moments.

Costner next turn was as yet another baseball player, this time of the paunchy, retired variety, in the dramedy "The Upside of Anger" (2005), helping a family friend (Joan Allen) whose husband has disappeared pick up the pieces of her life. Costner next teamed with director Andrew Davis for the action drama "The Guardian" (lensed 2006) playing a legendary rescue swimmer (Costner) who has to contend with a rebellious Coast Guard enlistee (Ashton Kutcher). While “The Guardian” awaited release, Costner was seen in “Rumor Has It…” (2005), Rob Reiner’s ill-conceived sequel to the movie classic, “The Graduate” (1967).

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