The 8 Ball 02.18.14: Top 8 Kevin Costner Films
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 02.18.2014
From The Untouchables and Bull Durham to Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Kevin Costner films of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Kevin Costner Films
Welcome back to another edition of the 8 Ball, ladies and gentlemen! Kevin Costner returns to theaters this week with a starring role in 3 Days to Kill, an action thriller in which he plays a dying Secret Service agent who accepts one last role in the hopes of retirement and medical treatment while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Costner's star largely faded over the last decade and a half, but there was a time when he was one of the bigger names in Hollywood and could be relied upon for movies that were both critical and box office successes. 2014 could be a very big year for him with 3 Days and then Draft Day in April. In honor of that, I thought we could take a look at the best films on the actor's resume.
Caveat: As with my other lists where I have focused on a single actor's films, I was looking specifically at films in which Costner had a leading or major supporting role. So for example, I disqualified Man of Steel because his role as Jonathon Kent, though important to the plot, was a relatively smaller part and thus I don't think anyone would consider him the "star" of that film. I was also looking specifically at theatrical films which left Hatfields & McCoys off, as well as his role in that great episode of Amazing Stories. For a film to qualify, Costner's role had to be a really significant element to the film. As for ranking placements, I was looking at the overall film as opposed to just his work.
Just Missing The Cut
Open Range (2003)
Tin Cup (1996)
Thirteen Days (2000)
A Perfect World (1993)
#8: No Way Out (1987)
First up on our list is one of the films that really helped launch Costner as a big-name star. No Way Out is an incredibly effective military thriller, with Costner playing U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell, who finds himself wrapped up in a murder investigation involving the woman that he's seeing, the Secretary of Defense and himself. Costner really showed that he was capable of holding down a film in this one, which is very tightly woven and unfolds slowly in an effective and measured manner. Roger Donaldson, who would work again with Costner on thirteen years later on (appropriately enough) Thirteen Days, takes the script from Robert Garland and never lets it roll out too quickly. He keeps the line taut and as the twists and turns of the plot unveil themselves you find yourself increasingly engrossed. That is due in no small part to the actors; Costner is an amicable lead and even did his own stunts while Gene Hackman and Sean Penn are exceptional in their roles. This one got buried underneath some of Costner's more high-profile work for a while but it honestly holds up better than some of those films and the ending is one of those great "wait, what?" moments that actually works. It does look a little dated these days but it holds up remarkably well for a late 1980s thriller and is well-worth watching a few times to get a new perspective on the events once you know what's really going on.
#7: Mr. Brooks (2007)
Mr. Brooks is probably Kevin Costner's most underrated film. This psychological thriller was released on the tail end of a host of disappointments for Costner, including Rumor Has It and The Guardian and the casting of Dane Cook didn't help matters much. But the film is an intriguing one, with Costner playing a successful businessman who is considered to be the pillar of Portland, Oregon but is a serial killer by night. When he is discovered by a budding fellow sociopath (played by Cook) he's blackmailed into taking him on as a protégé. Costner is great in his role as the titular Earl Brooks, with William Hurt having a hell of a time as his psychotic alter ego. The script by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon gets a bit over the top at times but Evans, who also serves as director, keeps things moving along swimmingly. Cook turns in his best performance to date as Mr. Smith--not a high bar, but it's still a nice acting job--and Danielle Panabaker is appealing as Brooks' troubled daughter who might just end up following in his footsteps. Mr. Brooks is certainly not the highest-profile of Costner's films but it is a fun, twisted little tale and the scenes between Hurt and Costner are thriller gold.
#6: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
If Mr. Brooks is Costner's most underrated film, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is his most unfairly-savaged one. This 1991 blockbuster has a sketchy reputation among many for Costner's titular hero delivering his lines in a thoroughly American accent, but in all honest that's a minor quibble. Costner had previously worked with director Kevin Reynolds on the actor's first starring role in 1985's Fandango, which is a solid film in its own right, and would later work with him again on the infamous Waterworld. This represents the highlight of their theatrical pairings together. The tale attempted to put a big-budget, epic spin on the famous Robin Hood tale and did a largely stellar job at it. The film is largely remembered fondly for Alan Rickman's deliciously evil turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, a role that would turn the British actor from known character actor to a star in his own right, but there is a lot more than that to enjoy here. Costner may speak like an Ohio farmer but he delivers the goods dramatically and establishes a fine chemistry with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who makes a wonderfully fiery Marian. Morgan Freeman has a lot of fun as Azeem and Michael Wincott turns in a great performance as Guy of Gisbourne. This is Costner's best popcorn film to date; it isn't deeply meaningful or thought-provoking but it is supremely entertaining. Reynolds is a very good action director and while the film is long, he keeps it moving along nicely. The film may not have won over the critics but it was an enormous box office hit and may have just been the peak of the actor's commercial success.
#5: Dances with Wolves (1990)
This is one that might surprise song long-time readers of my column, as I listed this among my Top 8 Best Picture Mistakes a couple of years ago. And I hold to the thought that Goodfellas should have won the Best Picture award in 1990. But that doesn't mean that Dances is Wolves is a bad movie by any stretch. This was Costner's most critically-celebrated career at the time and one of his many entries into the Western film genre; it was also his directorial debut. The story of a Union Army Lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find a military post and finds himself "going native" after his dealings with a group of Lakota Indians is incredibly well-made and features some standout performances from Costner, Mary McDonnell and Graham Greene. Costner makes some outstanding directorial choices here and while the film could be paced better, the cinematography and action sequences are beautifully orchestrated. Costner showed that he had a real talent behind the camera here, and he did so amidst a wave of criticism. Hollywood thought that he was in way over his head and a troubled shoot involving weather mishaps, budget overruns and tricky scenes meant that most considered this film DOA before it even came out. As it turned out of course, it became the film that gave him new levels of respect within the movie industry and among filmgoers and won him two Academy Awards.
#4: Bull Durham (1988)
There isn't another film in my estimation that portrays baseball quite as effectively as Bull Durham. Baseball films are the other staples of Costner's filmography and this one was certainly one of the best. Both on the field and out of the stadium, writer-director Ron Shelton's sports romcom gives us everything we could want in a film about the game. Costner is well-matched with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins as the aging veteran who finds himself in the middle of a love triangle with his up-and-coming rival and a baseball groupie with a passion for taking on "projects." The chemistry between Costner and Sarandon is electric, one of those on-screen pairings that you so very rarely find. Ironically, this film very nearly didn't get made because at the time, baseball was not considered a viable prospect for a commercially-successful film. The cast took reduced salaries because they loved the material so much and the movie helped reinvigorate the genre. One of the things that make it such a great film is that all the characterizations are three-dimensional and realistic. No one is an angel and no one is truly a black hat villain. Everyone is authentic, much like the film itself, and that gives the film the air of greatness that it needs to rank high on the list.
#3: JFK (1991)
Weird confession time: in high school I was obsessed with the John F. Kennedy assassination. Yes, I was clearly a very normal person from the get-go. I don't even remember how it happened, but I was truly passionate about studying the 1963 event that shocked and changed the nation and I got my hands on everything that I could read about it. (It just so happened that my high school had all twenty-six volumes of the Warren Report investigation and I read each and every page. So, so very normal.) Thus, it probably isn't a surprise that even though my conspiracy days are behind me, I love JFK. It's certainly not for the facts though; Oliver Stone's take on one man's investigation is full of twists and turns that are, to be generous, fanciful at times. But the film is gripping and exceedingly well-made, with a host of A-list talent doing amazing work. Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Walter Matthau, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon and Gary Oldman are all fantastic but it is Costner who truly anchors the film as the central figure of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. This is Costner's best acting to date, holding down a film that could have easily come off the rails if he hadn't been in control. It is an epic story that includes some truly electric courtroom scenes and it is surprisingly rewatchable for a three-hour film to boot.
#2: The Untouchables (1987)
He was already on the way, but The Untouchables was the film that truly made Kevin Costner a star. Brian De Palma's period crime drama about the US Treasury's quest to take down Al Capone is just amazing storytelling from start to finish. Costner is quite good as the famous Eliot Ness, and if he is surpassed by Sean Connery and Robert De Niro well, those are a couple of fine actors to be surpassed by. The way that De Palma framed this film is just phenomenal; the action set pieces are fantastic with the famous station shootout scene being an example of an all-time great scene. The film, unlike many period dramas, has maintained its timeless sense without feeling like a 1980s movie. The supporting duo of Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith both give great, underrated work and Billy Drago gives a performance as Frank Nitti that oozes oily charisma. This film took home four Oscars and deserved each and every one of them; it is one of my favorite mob-related films of all-time.
#1: Field of Dreams (1989)
There are people who say that Field of Dreams is too cheesy for its own good. Those people are welcome to their opinions, but I strongly disagree. Costner's best film is a story that is strong on sentiment to be sure, and perhaps some people are unable to reconcile the combination of sentimentality and fantasy. But for my money, no other film properly captures America's love of the sport this well. Kevin Costner is just perfectly-cast here as Ray, who truly embodies the spirit of those who love baseball. Costner would continue to push his star forward with this one, directed with real heart and affection by Phil Alden Robinson based on his own Oscar-nominated script. Costner plays off a fantastic cast including Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster. Of interesting note: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras on this film as spectators at the Red Sox game. This is a pure film about the spirit of baseball at its best and remains one the pinnacle of Costner's films to date.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 13 Last Serial Completed:The Box (Part 2) - Sydney and Jack find themselves in the ironic position of having to save SD-6 as former agent McKenas Cole tortures Sloane in order to obtain a mysterious item stored inside the SD-6 vault, while Will finds new leads into his story about the organization. Episodes Remaining: 92
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.