By Marie-Renee Goulet
Movies and music were always a source of joy, adventure and escape. However, the world being what it was from 2016 to June of last year, I completely stopped watching movies, and even listen to music. I had news channels on in the background for every waking hour, as if life depended on it. A year ago this month, John, Alan and Craig asked me to write for Foote & Friends and that was a game changer for me. All of a sudden, I had to revisit my favourite movies. Thank you team, I really appreciate having you in my life and I look forward to continuing our collaboration. John recently revisited Dances with Wolves (1990) and that reminded me of how good it was and it made me go through my DVD collection and I watched it for the first time in a decade. That led to revisiting JFK (1991) and this is when the guys suggested I should do a piece on Mr. Costner. I’ve just spent the last few weeks watching everything I could get my hands on, and now that I am done, I can say I am going to miss the man until new material become available.
I love movies that take you on a journey. I love getting lost in a story and not knowing where things are going. Kevin Costner is certainly that type of storyteller. He doesn’t follow movie conventions, and he trusts that his audience will travel along. He is the creative force behind so many movies that will stay with us, that have moved us unexpectedly. There were a few misfires along the way, but I am quick to move pass those because the same instinct pushed him to do films no one would make that turned into masterpieces. When Dances was in pre-production, everyone told him the movie was too long, that the entire Civil War sequence had to be removed and that he couldn’t have subtitles. This is when Costner took over directing the film, put up his own savings to set up preproduction, and find other funding, mostly overseas. He ended up mortgaging his house for the remainder. Costner was advised to buy a gun and shoot himself, that it would be a cheaper way to commit suicide. I am grateful for whatever made him tune the world out and take the risk to tell the story. I am grateful for all artists who are willing to stick their necks out for the integrity of a project.
I wrote each reviews on this list from the perspective that full reviews of many of these movies can be found on this site and I avoided being repetitive, exploring different angles where possible.
Having just finished Mark Harris’s excellent biography of Mike Nichols: A life, I was hoping such a book existed for Costner but not yet. I realized I did not know much about the man, so I started to look for trustworthy print interviews and watching videos on YouTube. It is often said that luck is the meeting of preparation and opportunity. I can’t think of a better example than Kevin Costner’s career. Looking at his movie credits and seemingly rapid success is deceiving. There is only a short 5-year period from his first juicy part in 1985 to his first two leading man roles in No Way Out and The Untouchables, both in 1987 to Directing Dances with Wolves in 1990 and winning 7 Oscars. He makes his work look effortless and natural because he’s invested thousands of hours of hard work in preparation.
Costner grew up playing basketball, baseball, and football. His father worked for the power company, and the family had to move often, forcing Kevin to start over at 4 different high schools. Eventually growing over 6 feet, he was only 5’2″ and 93 pounds at 16. “By the time I actually started to realize I could have played at a good level, I had already given up because of my size and all the moving.” He only decided to become an actor while in his last year at Fullerton College, where he majored in Marketing. After graduation in 1978, he moved to LA, took acting classes, and pursued his dream. Over the years, he supported himself and his family by driving trucks, framing houses, going off on commercial fishing boats, and working as a stage manager at Raleigh Studios. This is where personality traits such as patience, diligence, and doggedness become apparent. It took him 7 years to get his SAG card, 7 years of preparation, and plotting his career.
His big break came in 1983 when he was cast in The Big Chill, only to have his scenes on the cutting room floor. But Director Lawrence Kasdan cast him in his next movie in a flashy part in what would be Costner’s first western, Silverado (1985). And yes, after a fantastic streak of excellent movies, there is a stumble in the mid-’90s, which he recovered from by taking supporting roles in solid films in the 2000s. I’ve revisited everything from Fandango (1985) to Yellowstone (2018-present). Reading movie reviews and articles of the time, it appears to me that some people were not just waiting for him to fall but attacking his projects while in production until he eventually missed a step, causing many to gleefully pile on. He characterizes one awful early review as: “to have somebody who wants to cut my head off to see how far it rolls.” I am always very conscious when I write for this site to frame any criticism. Sometimes, you don’t like something for personal reasons, not because it is the worst of its kind.
I revisited movies I knew would not make this list because I wanted to look at Costner’s body of work as a whole. I had never seen 3000 miles to Graceland (2001). I really didn’t miss anything back then as I have little appreciation for pointlessly violent films where no one has any redeeming qualities, and it was hard to finish. But I was surprised re-watching Waterworld (1995). I realized that I was influenced by the hatchet job of critics back then. However flawed it is, I found myself enjoying it. I watched the Ulysses Cut, extended from the theatrical version, as it gives more context around the story and characters. There was so much noise around the budget at the time because it was the most expensive to date at $175 Million until Titanic (1997), which topped $200 million. Turns out that shooting on the water is expensive. Few of the scathing reviews actually talked about the movie itself, but they were brutal. The film didn’t do well in theatres then, but it has since turned a profit. It was a hit to Kevin’s bankability which The Postman (1997), harder to defend, just destroyed. Financing projects became an issue and likely last to this day. Say what you will, but both Waterworld and The Postman were prescient. Costner is very deliberate, and the message of Waterworld is clear, and he backed it up in real life. Years of global warming have heated the planet in the movie, and all ice deposits have melted. Earth is now a vast ocean with few survivors. The good guys barely survive in step with nature, and the bad guys continue burning the little fossil fuels left while residing on the Exxon Valdez. As a result, men have little freshwater or food, and only material things have value. The same year, Costner bought Ocean Therapy Solution, which develops centrifugal oil-water separators. This, a few years after the Exxon Valdez’s oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989.
Looking at my movie collection, Costner has had success in multiple movie genres and has made many courageous choices. This started as a top 10, but you have your favourites, so these are in no particular order. Film are emotions, and you either connect to the story and its characters, or you don’t. So let’s explore some of the best ones!
NO WAY OUT (1987)
This small excerpt is 80% spoiler.
I loved that movie when it came out. If you are wondering, no one asked you for your ID at the theatre or when renting movies in Québec City in the 80’s. I had not seen it since my last VCR died, so it was basically like watching it for the first time. I also realized I couldn’t possibly have fully grasped the plot back then. Inspired by the noir classic The Big Clock (1946), No Way Out is a romance thriller. One of the devices used as the ticking clock that drives the action in the second half of the movie would make it a very short story with today’s technology. But it worked then, so please enjoy.
Set in the Pentagon, Lt. Commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner), formerly of Naval Intelligence, is transferred to report to Defense Secretary David Brice (Gene Hackman) to provide intelligence from the CIA regarding a program he wants to terminate. Invited to a government reception by the Secretary’s aide, Scott Pritchard (Will Patton), Tom meets the beautiful, eccentric Susan, (Sean Young), and they hit it off rather quickly. What begins as a moment of passion turns into something else, and the two find themselves emotionally involved. Tom has no idea that Susan’s date at the party was his boss, and she reveals it to him. Repulsed, he remarks, “You know I work for Brice?” Tom says. She Answers: “That makes two of us.” When Brice finds out she is seeing someone else, he accidentally kills her in a fit of rage. Brice confesses this to Pritchard. Knowing her other lover was present just before the murder and could identify Brice, Pritchard becomes convinced the solution is to reassign Farrell to find the elusive “Yuri” a rumoured Russian Spy they don’t believe exist but can offer a cover-up while looking for their unknown witness. He is looking for anything that might stall an investigation into Susan’s death. Farrell finds himself leading a task force to find a potentially fictitious spy while trying to find evidence to incriminate his boss for murdering the woman he loved while they try to identify him as the lover and witness. The writing, direction and talent behind the movie ensure that this all works.
This movie solidified Costner as a leading man. He plays a man with a lot to hide, and his competent, cool demeanour works here as he keeps many secrets. He reinforces his physicality by performing many stunts, you can clearly see him rolling off the hood of a moving car during a foot chase. I’ve read a few reviews that complain there are too many plot twists in this film, but I disagree. If you really pay attention to seemingly innocuous details (a drink order, a passing conversation with a landlord), the plot is anchored, and there was no last-minute attempt at shocking. Nothing is accidental, and watching the pieces come together is satisfying. Plus, it was the 80’s.
THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)
Directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet, the movie depicts a version of events around Al Capone’s (Robert De Niro) criminal activities during the prohibition and agent Eliot Ness’s (Costner) obsessive attempts to take him down. Widespread corruption in Chicago makes knowing who your allies are difficult. After a chance encounter with Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), Ness renews his efforts to stop Capone. Ness recruits an elite group of incorruptible men, or “Untouchables” to complete the task. Connery won the Academy Award for best-supporting actor for his role as an Irish cop (with a suspicious Scottish accent), mentoring a young Eliot Ness. Mamet’s screenplay is mostly fictional. In this version, Ness is a young, happily married man and father, while in real life, Ness was married three times and did not have a biological child. I love how Ness is straight as an arrow initially but gradually lets his obsession with arresting Capone take over, breaking more rules by the end than he ever imagined. Exactly as I remembered from watching it in 87, I found De Niro’s performance a tad cartoonish, loud, and prone to unnecessary outbursts, like he starred in a different movie. One piece in the film didn’t age well, but I won’t detail it here as it would be unfair, with the pace we expect 34 years later. This is a classic Da Palma movie and well worth revisiting.
A PERFECT WORLD (1993)
Butch (Costner) escapes from a Texas jail with a fellow convict (they soon part ways), and they find themselves kidnapping Philip (T.J. Lowther), a young boy raised by a strict single mother under restrictive religious rules. They embark on a trip across the American Southwest together and a surprising bond grows between Butch and Philip. The boy was longing for an adult male presence and Butch is instinctively protective of the boy. A task force led by Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood) is hot on their trail. Garnett understands Butch has a good heart, but also that life has made him hard and can’t be sure he won’t hurt the boy. He feels guilt over some of the events that pushed Butch’s life in a terrible direction when he was young. He must bring him in, hopefully alive, and return the child to his mother. This is the first time we see Costner play against type as he shows flashes of real menace. In more recent outings as a bad guy, he is good at going dead eye, there is just no humanity. Here, much like in Mr. Brooks (2007), he is unpredictable. You find yourself caring for him, making him more dangerous as you could find yourself trusting him for a while. Directed by Clint Eastwood, you know the bad guy will not be a mindless thug terrorizing everyone he meets. This is an intelligent, moving story of nature versus nurture and how the people we have in our lives at a young age have the power to influence the course of our lives. Butch was abused as a child and simply cannot tolerate anyone abusing a kid. There is a scene where a man hits a child, hard for the second time. You see a flash of blinding rage in Costner’s eyes. He pauses. You know he’ll do something, but he seems so incensed that he needs to pause either to think about what he’ll do to the man or because he doesn’t want to kill him too quickly. This is a quiet film with touching moments between Butch and Philip. Unfortunately, the audience wanted to see a sexy, charming Costner and the movie didn’t perform as well as it should have.
DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)
John and I disagree on which is Costner’s best western. I absolutely love Open Range (2003) too but Dances is my favourite. When Costner was asked how he came to love westerns, he shared a story of going to a birthday party where the kids were brought to see ‘How the West Was Won (1962). He remembered “I don’t know how the other kids did but I never moved. […]. The music was playing before the curtain opened, and when it did, it was like God spoke to me and the scales came off my eyes. […]. Little did I know that I would meet some of our greatest Western stars on the screen that afternoon. But it was Spencer Tracy’s voice that I heard first, talking about the land with no roads or borders and the type of men who were unafraid to venture out into it. The first image of a birch bark canoe gliding across a mirrored lake towards a group of people standing on the shore dressed in feathers and furs, it took my breath away …”
That is what Dances did for me. I was 15 when it was released and I did not want to go see it because all the westerns I had seen up until then consisted of grown men running around in bad Halloween costumes, with ridiculous dialogue. The women were ornaments or damsels in distress. If indigenous people were present, they were savages. I had no interest. I started to read reviews and decided to go and it forever changed my view of the genre. It took my breath away and to this day, it still moves me. So this is why, as good as Open Range is, Dances will forever remain my number one. Movies, I repeat, are emotions. It was the first time I saw how Indians lived and how white people started to move toward the frontier.
Written and adapted for the screen by Michael Blake, Dances with Wolves begins during the Civil War in 1863. John Dunbar (Costner) tries to commit suicide following a debilitating injury but survives as a hero instead. He is promoted to the rank of lieutenant and allowed to choose his next posting. He chooses Fort Sedgewick at the western frontier. He begins restoring the Fort while waiting for word from the U.S. Army. The movie is gorgeous and shot with a love of wide-open spaces. The score by John Barry is evocative and perfectly elevates the grandeur and emotions of what you see on screen. Dunbar soon meets and slowly makes friends with the Sioux tribe, learning their way of life. A white woman taken in by the tribe as a child, Stands with a Fist (Mary McConnell) helps him learn Lakota and initially acts as a translator for him and Kicking Bird (Graham Greene). Many themes are explored, loneliness, the need for communication and belonging, love, family, friendship, loyalty. Dunbar’s friendship with Wind in HIs Hair (Rodney A. Grant) initially requires patience but is so genuine that your heart is thoroughly broken when they have to part ways. The buffalo hunt scene is jaw dropping to this day. No one had ridden with a buffalo herd in well over 120 years. 3000 buffalos were brought with rodeo riders able to recreate the moment. Costner distracted the insurance representatives who had forbidden him to ride and rode himself, yielding spectacular shots.
Amongst the cast are a few Canadian native actors, including Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal (Black Shawl), who both turn in remarkable, charismatic performances. I believe it was the first time a Hollywood production would depict any indigenous tribe with respect and historical accuracy. There is a genuine appreciation for the horse culture. Time is taken to explore the roles each member of the tribes occupies and women hold important positions within the tribe. When Dunbar makes contact with the Sioux people, progress in communication is slow. It accurately shows what it takes to cross any cultural divide, to show each other respect, and take the time to understand one another. How studio executives thought the movie would work if everyone spoke English is a mystery. There are so many great, humorous moments that show we are all the same, human. Not only did Costner direct an epic but he gives one of his best performances as well.
OPEN RANGE (2003)
This is my second favourite western directed by Costner and shot just west of Calgary. It depicts the relationship between a former gunslinger Charley Waite (Costner) and cattleman Boss Spearman (the great Robert Duvall) and their hired hands Mose (Abraham Benrudi) and Button (Diego Luna). Working for Boss has helped Charley to tame his violent side for the last 10 years after initially being a very effective killer during the civil war. He admires his mentor’s temperament. Open Range was based on a novel that illustrates a likely common conflict between free grazers and the people fencing the land. Taking place in Montana in 1882, there is not a trace of any indigenous people. Instead, white men have taken over the land, placing fences to mark their ownership. Mose gets in trouble getting supplies in a small town run by a corrupt rancher named Baxter (Michael Gambon). Baxter does not want free grazers nearby but Boss feels there is room for everyone. After Boss and Charley find Mose injured, they bring him to the doctor. This is when they meet the doctor’s sister Sue (initially thinking she was the Doc’s wife) played by Annette Bening. There is a visible attraction between Sue and Charley, and Costner really takes his time telling that story, and the patience pays off. Sue sees the man Charley wants to and can be, and around her is the only time we see Charley’s sadness lift.
After further retaliation, Mose is dead, and Button is left badly injured. Boss and Charley decide to make things right and to confront Baxter and his crew. Knowing he will use a few real killers, maybe ex-army men, Charley gives a play-by-play of how things are likely to go down, prioritizing his targets, knowing the weaker links on the hired crew are likely to avoid face to face conflict. Charley’s previous life comes to the forefront, and he warns Boss: “it will go fast once I start.” What follows is the best gunfight ever put on film. It is messy, starts, and stops as people move through the town. It is violent but realistic, and the gunshots are incredibly loud, which is how I imagine it would be should someone shoot at you. I agree with John that Costner gives one of the best performances of his career as Charley, a seemingly quiet man with a past. When around Sue, you can see him soften but still haunted by what he’s done and feels inadequate for this beautiful, sophisticated woman. Once “he starts,” though, he has no mercy for their enemies as he moves through town. I sound repetitive here but it is once again shot with a love of beautiful open space and of nature. Living within an hour’s drive of most of the shooting locations make it special.
BULL DURHAM (1988)
This film is written and directed by Ron Shelton, a former minor-league baseball player who wrote about what he knew well. Disappointed with sports movies, he wrote his own. It was hard to get this movie made which was “too expensive” at a budgeted $7.5 million. Costner: “Ron and I walked around like a couple of hookers on Santa Monica (Blvd.) trying to get somebody to look at this script, we went to all the studios twice”. They were turned down everywhere twice until Costner’s relationship with Orion allowed the film to be made.
I didn’t realize how important baseball was in the US until I saw the Mariners at Safeco Field a few years ago. Used to 18,000 intense spectators in a hockey arena, I was surprised by the energy generated by the 45,000+ crowd. The electricity and excitement were palpable and I loved every minute of the game. This movie is a love letter to baseball and probably the best baseball movie ever made.
Set in Durham North Carolina, this is a genuinely funny, character driven movie that accurately depicts life in the minor league. The writing is sharp and everyone you meet is fleshed out and interesting. Great care was taken with the background action. As you likely already know, Ebbie Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) has a million-dollar arm with a shot at the big leagues but a 5-cent head. Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is the aging catcher and minor league veteran brought in to mentor him and Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) runs her own type of training camp. You see from the first moment that Annie and Crash are madly attracted to one another but she chooses Nuke for the season. Sarandon was perfect for the part, sexy and intelligent and believable as the high priestess of the church of baseball.
Costner’s natural athleticism serves him well here, he looks like a ball player and he can play. Knowing even the best actors can’t fake athletic moves, he asked Shelton to come with him at a batting cage to judge his ability, not because he was insecure but to set the precedent. All other actors could be asked to do the same to ensure the movie’s credibility. He also gets his first big speech in a movie which Shelton admits he wrote to rope in an actor. Costner doesn’t try to be loveable, he plays this aging player with a lot of humanity and the hurt that comes with having never made it out of the minors for more than 21 days, and also silliness, which we don’t often see. He is a beautiful rascal who employs all he knows to successfully teach Nuke the discipline to make it into the “show”.
What makes this movie so interesting and funny is that Shelton puts the camera everywhere the TV camera can’t go during a game: in the shower, in the locker room, on the busses, on the mound and in the players face to hear them talk to themselves during big plays. An absolute favourite is the “convention on the mound”. How many times have you watched a game, baseball or other, and players meet and seem to have an important discussion, and you are left wanting to know what is being said? Well, you get to know and it is hilarious. There are so many gems in this timeless movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it again just as much as the first time.
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
Based on Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, the premise of this movie should not work: A farmer hears a voice while standing in his cornfield, destroys parts of his only crop to build a baseball diamond. There is no real action or plot. The whole movie is a way to get to one line of dialogue. Yet, this film is magical. It walks a very thin line and never falls off. What a cast: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster. At the time, baseball movies were unmarketable and not too many actors would do two in a row, but Costner followed his heart.
Ray Kinsella (Costner), his feisty wife Annie (Madigan), and daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann) live on a corn farm in Iowa. Nearing middle age, Ray is haunted by the last moments he shared with his father and fears growing old without ever achieving anything. This describes a large part of the population, so from the start, we relate. One night, as he walks through his field, he hears a voice: “If you build it, he will come.” He sees a vision of a baseball diamond and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) standing in the middle. Annie, ever so supportive, lets him plow a part of their crop to her brother’s (Timothy Busfield) shock and dismay. Ray builds the field to some derision from the town. A much younger friend and colleague humoured me. She watched this movie released many years before she was born and pointed out to me that Ray now comes across as egotistical and unsupportive of his wife as she performs a fantastic takedown defending the family. I can see that, but… I think the movie still works today. Weeks pass, and the bank is threatening to take the farm. Then, one day, little Karin announces: “Daddy, there is a man out there on the lawn.”
Sure enough, Shoeless Joe is standing in the middle of the field. Listening to him speak of baseball is a reminder of what it once was. Not a large enterprise for profit but a beloved game. For those who may not remember, Shoeless Joe was blacklisted along with 7 other players after being accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series, enabling the underdog Cincinnati Reds to win. He maintained playing the best he could that day. The way he describes what baseball was to him is heartbreaking. Ray thinks he accomplished his mission when he hears: “Ease his pain”. Who’s pain? This leads him on an adventure where he meets and kidnaps recluse writer Terrance Mann (Jones) and meets Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Lancaster in his last movie role), who never got his dream to play in the majors and brings them both home to the field.
In the end, Ease his pain, is Ray’s father’s pain. He was the one who would visit the field. Father and son would get to make things right. The movie speaks to everything that usually goes unsaid in our lives to those we love and hopefully will inspire you to do different and to follow your dreams. I find myself smiling for three-quarters of the film. Inevitably, the film reduces me to body rattling sobs. You’d think that after 6 or 7 viewings, you could steel yourself, but I can’t. Humans are constantly scanning the environment to recognize themselves. Some movies have staying power because they so successfully reach the majority of us. The structure here is that the moment Ray and his dad get to ease their pain in a fantasy is the moment we know we can never ease ours. But we can address the present, get on the phone now.
At a time where I could only afford to see one movie a week, I went to see this one two weeks in a row. I was only beginning to really understand English so I had to see the dubbed French version first and then go see the original version the following week. This was the last time I ever saw a movie dubbed in another language and I can confirm that you lose about 40% of the performances. This film has upwards of 80 speaking parts and so many layers of sounds, film stock and images achieved by expert editing that I remember being completely overwhelmed by the content. This is also my favourite Oliver Stone film. Stone’s casting of Costner, as mentioned in John’s recent review of JFK, was brilliant because Costner was the embodiment of honesty and integrity and perfect casting as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Costner had also proven a few months before with Dances with Wolves (1990) that the audience was happy to stay with him for three hours. This was a controversial movie at the time and Stone was under attack before the movie was even completed by people who usually do not comment on movies. Even Dan Rather had attacked the movie on CBS. After “JFK,” Stone said, he felt utterly drained: “I think it was the most distressing film I’ve had to make. I knew I’d have eyes on the back of my head while I was directing this film. It was very difficult not to be rattled by the attacks saying this film was a monstrosity. Any piece of work like this is an act of love and trust and a leap of faith. You need to nurture something like that. To be attacked and stabbed in the back was not easy.”
The Warren commission is dispelled with this film and reduced to what it is, a myth. Stone present exhaustive research in the events and took great care to use the words: “Let us suppose” whenever a statement could not be proven. So many affirmations spoken in the 60’s are so relevant today that I had to hit rewind on a few statements. Whether we look at how governments works or race relations, history doesn’t repeat but it sure rhymes. The movie had many outstanding performances. Donald Sutherland (“x”) gives one of the best movie speeches in history in one intense scene. He suggests a conspiracy at the highest levels of government, implicating the CIA, Mafia, the military-industrial complex, secret service, the FBI, and others as having motives to participate in or cover up the truth of the assassination. Following this meeting in 1968, Garrison continues his investigation and eventually prosecutes New Orleans-based international businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged involvement. In addition to the stress of the investigation itself, the media launched attacks on Garrison’s character and criticized how his office is spending taxpayers’ money. Some key witnesses become scared others are killed under suspicious circumstances. Nevertheless, Garrison never wavers and forges ahead. To this day, he is the only official who has brought charges in the case of the assassination of the President of the United States. Costner showed up ready to do the final trial summation in one take, and ends powerfully:
Because they care, because they want to know the truth – because they want their country back, because it belongs to us the people as long as the people got the guts to fight for what they believe in! The truth is the most important value we have because if the truth does not endure, if the Government murders truth, if you cannot respect the hearts of these people… then this is no longer the country in which we were born in and this is not the country I want to die in… And this was never more true than for John F. Kennedy whose murder was probably the most terrible moment in the history of our country. […] “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Do not forget your young President who forfeited his life. Show the world this is still a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Nothing as long as you live will ever be more important.The camera cranes up to Costner’s eye level, he breaks the fourth wall, stares right at you, and says: “It’s up to you”. This movie makes sense of the events in their context and if you have any appreciation for history, I strongly recommend watching or revisiting this one.
THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (2005)
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain. But anger can be great fuel to make big changes in your life even if initially out of spite. The great Joan Allen stars as Terry Ann Wolfmeyer and wakes up one day to find that her husband has left the house with only a jacket and his wallet. She concludes he left the country to follow his secretary back to Sweden. She begins her days with vodka which really doesn’t help with her four daughters “One of them hates me and the other three are working on it”. Her neighbour Denny (Costner) is a former baseball hero turned radio host who begins to check in on her, first as a drinking buddy. Costner even shows up wearing his Bull Durham bomber jacket. Both actors walk a fine line playing alcoholics while managing to remain relatable and loveable. The four daughters navigate the home as best they can. The eldest, Hadley (Alicia Witt), is a successful college student. Andy (Erika Christensen) is more rebellious and defies her mother by not going to college and seeking an intern position on Denny’s radio show. His producer Shep (Mike Binder) is happy to offer the much younger beautiful woman the work as he angles for perks. Emily (Keri Russell) and Terry Ann have their own disagreement about what is a valuable career pursuit. Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood) is the youngest, overly mature for her age, and the movie’s narrator. Denny is lonely and begins to love coming over as the house smells like a home, there is always something cooking. He doesn’t try to fix anything; he just gets along with the girls and is there for Terry Ann and they eventually get together. I won’t give away the ending as this is a fun movie to watch regardless of the heavy theme. It is handled very well by writer/director Mike Binder, who also appears as Denny’s radio producer. He and Costner would work together again in Black or White (2014).
MOLLY’S GAME (2017)
Based on her memoir, Molly’s Game depicts how a young woman, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), whose career has been derailed by devastating ski accident, moves across the country “to be young in warm weather” for a while. Her father (Kevin Costner) insists on raising champions. All three of his children are overachievers, one son is a two-time Olympian, a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, the other a cardiothoracic surgeon at Mass General. Shortly after arriving in California, she takes up a job as an assistant to Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). He is brash and unlikable, but he soon asks her to help him manage an ultra-secret poker game. She becomes more tolerant of his abuse after making $3000 in tips on the first night. After many more games, Keith becomes jealous of her success with the high-powered players and freezes her out. In a bold move, she takes over The Game and takes it up to a whole other level. But this isn’t a poker movie, it is a cautionary tale about our own ambitions and an inspirational story about what truly matters in life. There is a musicality to Sorkin’s writing and intelligent ping pong in all dialogue. There is a moving scene between father and daughter that is touching not because it is sentimental but because it is so sincere and realistic. Kevin Costner delivers one of his best performances in years.
Costner never repeats himself and doesn’t go for the easy paycheck. He is a good actor, not a great one. His strength is as a storyteller. Many of his movies have a sense of purpose whether inspirational or tackling issues like racism and inclusiveness. I’ve also noticed something else about all of his movies, there is a love and respect of women. I don’t mean romanticism but that all the women in Costner’s movies are age appropriate and have strong story lines and a backbone. He often works with the same actors, directors, producers and he seems to be loyal to his regular business partners sometimes to a fault. All of the movies listed here have staying power. Some work as well today as they did when they were released.
In a June 2020 Interview with AARP, he was asked “Why is fighting for creative integrity so important to you?” “I have been tested in a lot of different ways. There have been very critical moments where I had to listen to myself and act and not be afraid of the outcome. I always put the audience on my shoulder. And I will say to Hollywood people, “Don’t be too sure they don’t want to see that.” And that’s what the fight is about. I haven’t always been really successful in certain movies. But I still love it.”
I for one, hope that he’ll continue to produce, act and direct for many years to come.
It was difficult to pick just 10, here are some other great Costner projects worth revisiting:
- BLACK OR WHITE (2014) Costner produced and financed the film written by Mike Binder, who also wrote, directed, and acted in Upside of Anger (2005). Cast members (Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie) commented that they could say on film what they had wanted to say aloud for a long time. Costner plays a recently widowed man who turns to alcohol to mitigate his grief and anger. He and his late wife had already lost their daughter as she gave birth to their biracial granddaughter (Jillian Estell, who is very good in the role), whom they raised from birth. He finds himself into a custody battle with the child other grandmother (Spencer). There is an interesting speech in a courtroom scene which took me by surprise. The film explores complex themes with a sense of humour and is based on a real-life story.
- HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (2012) Costner won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role in the three-part series in one of the most famous feuds in American History, staring with the late great Bill Paxton.
- LET HIM GO (2020) Costner plays a retired sheriff and his wife (Diane Lane), are grieving the loss of their son. They set out to find their only grandson after their former daughter in law remarries into an evil family. There is a sense of dread throughout the film. Set in the 60’s, the movie was shot entirely in Alberta in the small towns around Calgary, standing in for Montana and North Dakota.
- THIRTEEN DAYS (2000). Costner plays long time Kennedy friend and presidential adviser Kenny O’Donnell during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The very capable cast make all the exposition necessary for us to understand and remember the real-life events interesting.
- TIN CUP (1996) Costner teams up with Ron Shelton once more to play a washed-up golf pro in this enjoyable film, also staring Rene Russo, Don Johnson and Cheech Martin.
- HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) The real-life story of how a team of female African American mathematicians served at NASA and were directly responsible for the success of the space program. Many satisfying moments around race issues, equality and great performances for the all-star cast.
- MCFARLAND, USA (2015) This film was a surprise for me. I had never heard of it and I was moved by the true story. Jim White (Costner) goes into a real-life changing journey when he has to move his family after losing his last job due to his temper. Initially afraid and wanting to leave their new town which is primary Latino, they bridge the culture gap and he supports and encourage seven students until they eventually become the best cross-country team in the region. It is a Disney movie but the “feel good” aspect is genuine and anchored in reality.
Marie’s appreciation for movies & TV began early in life as it offered escapes, laughter, and often an education. It sparked a love of photography, travel, and a general curiosity for the world and everything in it. Originally from Quebec City, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Trebas Institute in 1998 where John H. Foote was her Film History professor. The winds pushed her into a different professional field and on a few adventures around the world. The passion for film and storytelling in all forms continues. Marie lives in the Canadian Rockies.