It’s been some time since the heyday of Kevin Costner’s prime. I’m talking about those sweet years between 1987 (The Untouchables) and 1994 (Wyatt Earp), when he was a regular box office draw, an award-winning director, and the president of sports movies. It’s not that he disappeared exactly. In fact, Costner’s been remarkably consistent in appearing in almost a movie a year. It’s more that the quality and profile of those films has diminished, and him a bit too in the process. There have been exceptions of course – Thirteen Days, Open Range, The Upside of Anger, TV’s Hatfields & McCoys. But a look at his projects between 2006 and 2013 – The Guardian, Mr. Brooks, Swing Vote, The New Daughter, The Company Men – doesn’t exactly reflect an enviable (or successful) portfolio.
Stars fade of course, and even the best actors can struggle to remain relevant and prosperous for decades. It was just a shame it happened to Costner. Make all the Waterworld and The Postman jokes you want, there’s always been something great and classic Hollywood about him. If George Clooney is our modern Cary Grant, than Kevin Costner is something like our modern Gregory Peck. You could never say Costner particularly reached, but that’s exactly what made him so charmingly old Hollywood: he had a comfortable range from which he didn’t stay far. Not just in terms of his preferred projects – sport movies, Westerns, lower-scale action vehicles, father-son subjects – but his acting too. Like Peck, there was always a remarkably simple sincerity to his performances. It’s no-nonsense, no-frills acting that gets the job done but still manages to make it easy to connect with him.
Man of Steel proved that yet again. When word came Kevin Costner would be cast as Superman’s dad, it was not just exciting because it meant a massively high profile project for him, it was also perfect casting. Who better to play Jonathan Kent than an actor who is so remarkably capable of portraying the simple sincerity of a father full of common-sense acceptance, love and wisdom? You watch Costner there and he makes you wish he were your dad. He was undoubtedly one of the best parts of Man of Steel and a welcome reminder of what we’ve been missing.
Thankfully, the Zack Snyder film wasn’t just a one-off. Kevin Costner is about to have a big 2014, and could very well find himself amidst a genuine comeback, renaissance, reinvention. He has five movies scheduled for release this year, all of them with some significant talent and profile behind them. There’s the Tom Clancy reboot Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (directed by Kenneth Branagh) where he plays a veteran CIA agent mentor. There’s his role as an NFL general manager overseeing drafts in Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day. He’s getting the Liam Neeson action-star treatment courtesy of Luc Besson’s writing and McG’s directing in 3 Days to Kill. Black and White reunites him with The Upside of Anger director Mike Binder as a widower trying to keep custody of his granddaughter. Finally, McFarland teams him with Whale Rider director Niki Caro playing a track coach trying to build a championship team. These could not be more quintessential Kevin Costner movies: two are sports films, two are spy films, and one is a family melodrama.
In other words, the Costner is getting a chance at a comeback and do what he does best. Of course, how these movies turn out remains to be seen. But in the meantime it’s just nice to have the actor back and on the cusp of having a huge year. Here’s hoping – to paraphrase Field of Dreams – now that this career opportunity has been built for him, people come.
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