Typing Faster

March 11, 2010

An Ode to Kevin Costner (and other actors who take risks)

Filed under: Acting, Features, Stuff I Like, Working — petertypingfaster @ 7:00 am

I’m about to admit something that, while it may not have exactly gotten me into trouble in the past, has definitely earned me more than a few eye rolls over the years.

I really like Kevin Costner.

I’m sure at least a few of you are rolling your eyes, but hear me out. Costner’s an interesting actor. He’s made some absolute stinkers (The Postman, Dragonfly), but he’s also made some great, great flicks (Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves). While his career has certainly had its ups and downs, he’s proven himself to be much more resilient than a lot of his counterparts (just compare him to someone like John Travolta). Perhaps more importantly, Costner is one of few actors who’s always been open to taking on risky projects.

Just take a look at this article from Den of Geek.

Costner [is] a rare case: at the very peak of his box office powers, he rarely took the easy option. Granted, he chose misfires along the way, and some of his films are best forgotten. But at the start of the 90s, he, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis were the big movie stars. Bruce Willis eventually came round to picking more challenging fare by the end of the decade, while Arnie churned out the mix of action and comedy roles that have ultimately defined his career.

But Costner? Are there many other movie stars who, after garnering massive worldwide success with The Bodyguard (a film I’ve little time for, in all honesty), would follow it up with the sublime and hugely underrated A Perfect World? A film that that gave him a character who couldn’t be much further away from The Bodyguard’s Frank Farmer (these’s an argument for Patrick Swayze, but his choice of material, while risky, was lacking in quality too often).

Then, after that, he jumped aboard Wyatt Earp, a big budget Western with no guarantee of success whatsoever (and ultimately, it proved not to enjoy that much at all).

Look back down the Costner resume, and it’s full of films chosen with an eye on the quality of the material first. Say what you like about The Untouchables, Bull Durham, Field Of Dreams, Dances With Wolves, JFK, A Perfect World, Tin Cup, The Postman and Thirteen Days, but you can barely fault the eye for good material, or, at the very least, the propensity for taking a risk. They weren’t even risks because his career demanded he take a gamble to spark it into life. They were risks taken primarily because he wanted to take them.

While we’re here: Tin Cup and Thirteen Days are both hugely underappreciated movies, and The Postman, while a mess, is at least layered with ambition.

Now, take a look at most of the movie stars who have been doing the rounds at some point over the past two decades, and try and find another who’s consistently gambled, and won more than they’ve lost. Michael Douglas, perhaps? Certainly not the likes of Shia LaBoeuf (although he’s still young, to be fair), or Nicolas Cage (since he got his blockbuster breakthrough). Julia Roberts? Harrison Ford? Will Smith? Mel Gibson? Eddie Murphy? Johnny Depp, maybe? Even the two Toms, Hanks and Cruise, have played more safer cards than riskier ones.

Most actors we’ve mentioned have several interesting and riskier projects to their name, to be fair, but not to the same ratio when placed against their more commercial picks. And granted, there are many actors who have just as interesting a filmography as Costner, but how many of them were picking projects such as these when they first burst through as a major movie star? And then kept picking them when they were at the top of their powers? Even Waterworld, love it or loathe it, is about the most difficult action blockbuster anyone in the 90s could have plumped for.

Kevin Costner is far from a perfect actor, and he may be the most wonderful or loathsome human being on the planet. I couldn’t tell you. Nor can I tell you what was going through his head when he was making Dragonfly. He’s certainly made a number of shitty movies.

But we still need more movie stars like him. We still need a greater concentration of actors who have the chops to roll the dice when they’ve got the most to lose.

Long term, Costner’s probably paid a box office price for doing so. But the pay off is that, even though his star has long peaked, we’re still talking about his films, and the choices he made. And there simply aren’t many other actors of the last few decades whom that applies to.

Interesting stuff.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I gotta admit that I love Waterworld.



  1. You, sir, are a brave, brave man 😉

    I’ve never hated Costner — certainly not with the vitriol of some people I’ve known — I just find that I tend to feel disappointed with him as often as I am engaged with his performances.

    I think Dances With Wolves is a damn-fine movie to have on your resume… however, as much as I wanted to love Swing Vote… well, it just left me cold.

    I appreciate him taking chances, but I dunno…

    Comment by Brandon — March 11, 2010 @ 8:20 am

  2. He’s definitely done some stinkers, but he’s got enough great stuff on his resume that I’m pretty comfortable standing by my argument.

    Movies like Field of Dreams, Tin Cup, Open Range, Bull Durham, etc are all great flicks. I’ve even got a huge soft spot for really troubled flicks like Waterworld…

    Comment by petertypingfaster — March 11, 2010 @ 10:32 am

  3. The great thing about Costner is that in addition to his risky choices in films he takes similar risks within the characters he plays.

    Not many big time movie stars have allowed the kind of vulnerability he showed in “For Love of the Game” his willingness to take a backseat and simply support the entire rest of the cast in “Thirteen Days” or the flaws of middle age he epitomized in “The Upside of Anger”.

    And how many ‘Stars’ would have even dared tackle “Mr. Brooks”?

    Okay that movie with Tom Petty was a little out there but the cigars and chocolate moment with Robert Duvall in “Open Range” is one of the most moving scenes I’ve ever seen in a Western.

    The guy gets it. He’s there to give you a fully fleshed out character you’ve probably never seen before yet in a completely populist entertainment.

    They don’t come much better.

    Oh, and I love “Waterworld” too.

    Comment by Jim Henshaw — March 11, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

  4. “Waterworld” would’ve been a fine Roger Corman B-Movie, say, called “Wet Max” or something.

    It probably started off that way too, but it got blasted because it was a mega-budget … B movie. It was diverting, which is the minimum I expect of a motion picture.

    Comment by Garner Haines — March 12, 2010 @ 9:01 am

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