Kevin Costner

The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma)

There are few constants in The Untouchables. Leading man Kevin Costner comes in after nemesis Robert De Niro (as Al Capone) opens the movie; only the Chicago setting and Ennio Morricone’s grandiose, bombastic, omnipresent score are unabated. Director De Palma embraces the film’s various phases, sometimes through Stephen H. Burum’s photography, sometimes just through how much he lets the actors chew at the scenery. In his deftest move (with the actors, anyway), the only ones De Palma never lets get chewy are Costner and Sean Connery. With Connery, it’s a wonderful disconnect from what could be a very showy, chewy role. With Costner, it’s more because David Mamet’s screenplay has him so absurdly earnest, the part doesn’t have the teeth for it.

Costner’s the protagonist–and when Untouchables fully embraces itself as an action picture in the last third, it’s Costner leading the charge–but Connery and De Niro get the best parts. Connery’s an aged, failed, albeit mostly honest, beat cop who can’t help but bond with earnest treasury agent Eliot Ness (Costner). Even when De Palma, Burum, and Morricone turn up the melodrama on Connery, he stays reserved. His is the most honest part in Mamet’s script, whether in his counseling of Costner and the rest of the team (Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia) or butting heads with cop pal Richard Bradford. De Niro, on the other hand, plays Capone like Robert De Niro playing Al Capone. It’s an exaggerated performance in an exaggerated film, only De Palma doesn’t direct the scenes for De Niro’s performance so much as around it.

The Untouchables is weird that way. It all comes together, but isn’t fluid outside that Morricone score. And Chicago, of course. It makes wonderful use of its locations. The score and setting glue the consecutive pieces of the film together, which is particularly helpful since Mamet repeats himself over and over when it comes to exposition. Most of Smith’s part–outside his introduction, action sequences, and occasional cute moments–is saying the same things, over and over, about getting Capone on his taxes. And he talks about it in his first scene.

Mamet and De Palma are also real bad about Costner’s family life; after introducing Patricia Clarkson and doing a little establishing, she’s pretty much offscreen to the point it’s not even clear she’s pregnant. The pregnancy only becomes a plot detail after she gives. While she’s in the movie throughout–she’s how Mamet and De Palma introduce Costner in fact–she doesn’t have any lines.

Actually, besides Clarkson, there might only be three other speaking roles for female actors. And each of them only get one scene. Untouchables is all about the boys. They all talk about how nice it is to be married. It’s one of Mamet’s main recurring dialogue motifs; De Palma doesn’t seem to put much stock in it though. Costner and company, in their battle for good against De Niro and his goons, are separate from the goings-on of the regular world.

All of the acting is fine, some of it is better. De Palma seems to know he can get away with exaggerated performances because nothing’s going to be louder than that Morricone music. Or main goon Billy Drago’s white suit.

Now, while Morricone’s score is grandiose and melodramatic, it’s still got a lot of nuance and sincere emotional impact. Costner, Connery, Garcia, and Smith immediately establish themselves as a team. De Palma doesn’t spend a lot of time just relaxing with the characters, but there’s some of it and a sense of camaraderie permeates. It’s in stark contrast to De Niro, who exists to terrorize, whether it be regular people or his own flunkies.

In the first two thirds of the picture, De Palma’s more concerned with the drama. There’s some action, but he’s not focusing on it as much as where it occurs or how it perturbs the plot. In the last third, however, De Palma’s all about the action. Yes, how its affecting Costner–and Costner’s character development–is a thing, but character is secondary to style. And it’s some masterful style. The Untouchables is solid until it all of a sudden becomes exceptional for a while. De Palma, Burum, Morricone, and editors Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow do some fantastic work finishing up the film.

It’s a fine film, succeeding when it almost shouldn’t–Costner’s earnestness ought to be too much, it’s not; De Niro’s excess ought to be too much, it’s not. Morricone’s score ought to be too much. It’s not. Instead, it’s essential in making The Untouchables work.

It and that Chicago location shooting, of course.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by David Mamet, suggested by the book by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Art Linson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Ness), Sean Connery (Malone), Charles Martin Smith (Wallace), Andy Garcia (Stone), Robert De Niro (Capone), Richard Bradford (Dorsett), Patricia Clarkson (Catherine), and Billy Drago (Nitti).


Hidden Figures (2016, Theodore Melfi)

In the first scene of Hidden Figures, the film makes it immediately clear there’s going to be quite a bit of self-awareness. The film is based on the true story of three black women who were instrumental to NASA’s–and the space program’s–success. They’re working at NASA in the early sixties, during segregation, doing harder jobs better than the white guys working at NASA. And there’s an awareness. Janelle Monáe, in the flashiest lead role, gets the least to do, but she does get tasked with offering commentary on the situations at hand.

Director Melfi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Allison Schroeder, depends a lot on his cast. Nothing in his direction gets any of the scenes done. For example, Melfi underplays it with Taraji P. Henson, who’s the closest thing the film’s got to a protagonist (but the film doesn’t want to have one, which gets to be a problem in the third act). While Monáe, albeit outside work, gets to have a developed relationship with Aldis Hodge (as her less than supportive husband) and second-billed Octavia Spencer gets to have this workplace unpleasantness with Kirsten Dunst, Henson’s got supportive boss Kevin Costner, who she never gets to have a moment with. She’s got wormy supervisor Jim Parsons, who she never gets to have a moment with. There are fill-in moments, but none suggesting Parsons and Costner are people and not caricatures.

It’d be fine if they were caricatures, maybe even appropriate (though Costner’s not–he gets a movie star scene in the film), but if they are caricatures, giving them their little unspoken courtesies to Henson is even more problematic.

Hidden Figures weathers those problems with some very reliable materials–the history is on the film’s side and all three lead performances are great. While Monáe gets to be showy for most of the film, only having to move aside towards the end, when it tries to become a special effects extravaganza thriller just to find a finish, and Spencer’s part is underwritten but convinces the viewer it isn’t, Henson gets the big stuff. And the script, even though she’s got a romance going on outside her saving Costner and Parsons’s butts with math, doesn’t like letting Henson do anything. Monáe does things, Spencer does things, Henson quietly does the math. And she’s exceptional doing the math. Melfi’s best direction is with Henson, simply because he’s just letting the camera watch her performance too.

Technically, the film’s solid without being exceptional. Mandy Walker’s photography is fine, but Melfi’s not ambitious. Maybe the score gets a little much at the end, when Melfi’s tackling the special effects extravaganza with absolutely no personality. Despite some gorgeous production design (courtesy Wynn Thomas), Hidden Figures is oddly absent mise-en-scène.

The ambition is instead with the film itself, presenting these three women completely aware of their exploitation, completely aware of their constraints, and excelling regardless. The sad part of Henson not getting resolution is how well Spencer and Monáe make out with it. Spencer and Dunst’s arc is an uncomfortable, angering one. But it’s a mature way of handling it. The script’s got a narrative arc for that subplot. For Henson? Well, it’s got the Friendship 7.

Not to rag on Melfi too much more, but there’s a difference between acknowledging other films’ handling of the same material without just giving up and pretending to be Apollo 13 for fifteen minutes. It’s his lack of personality. Even Costner’s got some personality, even if it’s nonsensically only for Parsons’s benefit, as they have a moment together.

Hidden Figures is a movie fully aware white guys don’t have to be the leads but it’s the white guys who get that learning moment together. And let’s not even touch on the problematic nature of superhero John Glenn (Glen Powell is fine, it’s just a bland part).

But once you get through the problems and appreciate the film’s accomplishments–and those lead performances–it’s clear Hidden Figures’s success isn’t contingent on a flawless narrative structure. It’s historical, after all, and a positive “real life” moment is hard to resist, but it does distract from its characters. Because even if what was happening in reality was important, in Hidden Figures, it’s Henson, Spencer, and Monáe who are important and deserve the time.

Melfi just doesn’t know how to build tension. Thank goodness he’s got actors who know how to essay it however.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Melfi; screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Melfi, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly; director of photography, Mandy Walker; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Wallfisch; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Melfi, Jenno Topping, and Williams; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Goble), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson), Kevin Costner (Al Harrison), Kirsten Dunst (Mrs. Mitchell), Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), Mahershala Ali (Colonel Jim Johnson), Aldis Hodge (Levi Jackson), and Glen Powell (John Glenn).


The Postman (1997, Kevin Costner)

Where The Postman succeeds, besides with the performances, most of its technical aspects, is with director Costner’s ability to find each character’s emotional reality in a scene. He achieves a sort of alchemist’s miracle, but not with lead into gold, but with saccharine into sublime. With one unfortunate exception, every emotional moment in the film hits thanks to Costner’s direction of the actors. And Stephen F. Windon’s gorgeous cinematography, of course.

The Postman’s post-apocalyptic future never gets a thorough explanation. From the tidbits, it sounds a lot like white supremacists come to power and ruin the United States and possibly the whole world. The latter part is somewhat unclear. What also doesn’t get an explanation is the film’s basic thesis–the importance of communication between people. It’s in the film instead; the emotional impact of that communication is what Costner showcases. There’s also quite a bit–usually involving Costner’s sidekick Larenz Tate–about the young versus the old. It’s a wrecked, hopeless world, one where Costner’s protagonist–of course he stars in it as well–really doesn’t care about the world. It’s all very sincerely inspiring, especially since there’s such a fantastic contrast between Tate and his two mentors, Costner and Daniel von Bargen.

So there’s the whole communication thing, there’s the whole young vs. old thing, there’s also the whole army of white supremacists (led by a phenomenal Will Patton) and then there’s also the very, very complicated romance. Costner’s love interest, Olivia Williams, plays a major role in the second act and then gets shoved aside in the third. Worse, her character is the one the script fails completely. After building an incredibly complex character, the solution to her character arc is the film draining her character of any content. She’s still good, but it’s extremely unfortunate.

Also unfortunate, in general, is the third act. It’s where special effects come in, it’s where there’s too much summary, it’s where the pragmatic voiceovers come in (Peter Boyle’s editing is strong, but he can’t make third act montages work, which is partially composer James Newton Howard’s fault too). The movie’s about Costner’s character and his reluctant self-discovery, but it’s about a lot more too. Some of the third act acknowledges the rest and, sadly, the finale doesn’t.

Tate’s great, Williams’s great when her role’s well-written and fine when it’s not, James Russo’s great as one of Patton’s officers, von Bargen’s great, Giovanni Ribsi’s really good in a small part. And Costner’s really good. Even though he’s The Postman, he doesn’t hog the spotlight. Given the finale, maybe he should have. But he can tell he’s got a lot of excellent actors hitting all the right marks and he gives them their time.

The Postman’s not a great film. It’s a rather good one with countless great moments. With a better third act, a better score (maybe even still from Howard, but just better), it might have been. Great production design from Ida Random too. It’s an impressive attempt from Costner.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Costner; screenplay by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by David Brin; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Peter Boyle; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Costner, Steve Tisch and Jim Wilson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (The Postman), Will Patton (General Bethlehem), Larenz Tate (Ford Lincoln Mercury), Olivia Williams (Abby), James Russo (Idaho), Daniel von Bargen (Sheriff Briscoe), Scott Bairstow (Luke), Giovanni Ribisi (Bandit 20), Roberta Maxwell (Irene March), Joe Santos (Colonel Getty), Peggy Lipton (Ellen March), Ron McLarty (Old George), Rex Linn (Mercer), Todd Allen (Gibbs), Brian Anthony Wilson (Woody), Shawn Hatosy (Billy), Charles Esten (Michael), Ryan Hurst (Eddie March) and Tom Petty (The Once Famous Man).


A Perfect World (1993, Clint Eastwood)

A Perfect World runs almost two hours and twenty minutes (it does with end credits). The last act of the film is a seventeen or so minute showdown in real time. Until that point in the film, John Lee Hancock’s script flirts with occasional sequences in real time, but there’s a lot of summary, a lot of missed time. The present action of the film is a couple days–Kevin Costner has broken out of jail, ends up with an eight year-old boy as a hostage (T.J. Lowther), and is trying to get out of Texas. Clint Eastwood, acting, plays the Texas Ranger after him. There’s a great attention to detail, particularly for the time period, and with the filmmaking; A Perfect World is a great example of a film being good while still boring.

Hancock’s script desperately wants to compare and contrast the various characters–Eastwood had run ins with younger Costner, Costner had a bad dad, Lowther has a bad dad, it goes on and on. Laura Dern is around to be sexually threatened–the film takes place in 1963, after all–and to counsel Eastwood. Unfortunately, most of that counseling comes when Eastwood’s Rangers are literally broken down off the highway.

Meanwhile, Costner and Lowther have a rather touching adventure. There’s great period music, rich performances from just about anyone–even evil escaped convict Keith Szarabajka is pretty good and he’s not doing much of anything. Leo Burmester doesn’t get enough to do, however. Once things come together for the inevitable showdown, which Eastwood and Hancock don’t set up well enough–one would think Eastwood’s chasing Costner across a county, not the state–there get to be hints of what A Perfect World could have done. It just takes too long to get there and not through interesting enough adventures.

Costner’s too much of an enigma to be the lead, Lowther could be but he isn’t. Same goes for Dern (or Eastwood even). It isn’t a matter of Hancock’s script being all over the place, it’s about the script not being there enough and Eastwood being able to cover it as a director. Jack N. Green’s photography is gorgeous, Joel Cox and Ron Spang’s editing is spry; A Perfect World is a spectacularly well-made, often spectacularly acted film, just not spectacular overall. But it’s still really darn good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by John Lee Hancock; director of photography, Jack N. Green; edited by Joel Cox and Ron Spang; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood, Mark Johnson and David Valdes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Butch), T.J. Lowther (Phillip), Clint Eastwood (Red Garnett), Laura Dern (Sally Gerber), Keith Szarabajka (Terry Pugh), Bradley Whitford (Bobby Lee), Leo Burmester (Tom Adler) and Jennifer Griffin (Gladys Perry).


Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner)

From the start, director Costner embrues Dances with Wolves with melancholic tragedy. Even as Costner’s protagonist–a Union soldier reassigned to the frontier–travels west, seeing startling natural beauty, which Costner and cinematographer Dean Semler visualize carefully, enthusiastically, perfectly, there’s dread. Most of it comes from John Barry’s lush and haunting score, but Costner does make sure to juxtapose his character’s idyllic, solitary experience with the realities around him. The realities involve the residents of the frontier–the Native Americans–and the threat Costner represents.

Costner’s protagonist is one of the singular elements of Dances with Wolves. He’s a goof, but Costner–both as director and actor–never invites a laugh. He still gets them occasionally and paces to allow them, he just doesn’t invite them. The film runs three hours, with most of the first hour spent establishing Costner and the setting. The Sioux living nearby, who he eventually joins, are either figures on the horizon or unintelligible visitors. Of course, the Sioux–Graham Greene and Rodney A. Grant are the primary supporting cast–do have their own scenes, but they’re delayed. It isn’t until Costner, the actor, meets them in the film does Costner, the director, let Greene and Grant start to develop. Almost the entire first hour of Dances with Wolves is Costner delaying the inciting incident. There’s a lot of ground situation to establish and Costner takes his time.

The tone Costner sets in that first hour, alternating between graphic war violence and the tranquil, infinite prairie, doesn’t carry for the rest of the film. Dances with Wolves becomes a very mature romance once the Sioux befriend Costner and he meets Mary McDonnell’s “captive.” McDonnell’s got her own arc, which is awesome, with her relearning her English and romancing a fellow white person, but she’s never reconnecting with her “lost” identity. Costner and writer Thomas Blake (adapting his novel) are very deliberate in how they present not just the Sioux, but how they present Costner and McDonnell to the Sioux and vice versa. That introductory tone, occasionally violent but still tranquil, makes the eventual character relationships all the better. Costner can spend twenty minutes having Costner and Greene bond, Costner and McDonnell appreciate each other’s company–and Costner and Grant’s relationship is maybe the film’s most emotionally devastating–and then get into the bigger questions.

The weight of Wolves comes from these characters forced into these new, impossible situations with one another, but also the impending doom of settlement. Costner narrates the film–through an in-film journal device–and lays a lot of that groundwork. But the appreciation for the natural beauty also gets emphasized in that narration. The narration also directly affects how Costner’s character’s sweet goofiness comes across in scene. It’s a beautifully constructed narrative.

The film’s technically outstanding. Semler’s photography, presumably mostly in natural light, is amazing. The Barry score is awesome. Great editing from William Hoy, Chip Masamitsu, Steve Potter and Neil Travis.

Superb acting–Greene, McDonnell, Grant, Costner, Tantoo Cardinal. Very nice “cameos” from Robert Pastorelli, Charles Rocket, Maury Chaykin, Wes Studi. McDonnell’s performance could power its own film.

Dances with Wolves is emotionally draining enough Costner could probably get away with a cute moment in the third act just to give some relief. But there isn’t any relief; Wolves has to be honest. Technicolor skies, endless Panavision prairies, the thunder of a buffalo herd–all too cinematic, all too real. Blake’s script helps a lot with the detail, ditto Jeffrey Beecroft’s production design.

Dances with Wolves is a stunning achievement from Costner and his cast and his crew.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Costner; screenplay by Michael Blake, based upon his novel; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by William Hoy, Chip Masamitsu, Steve Potter and Neil Travis; music by John Barry; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Costner and Jim Wilson; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Lieutenant Dunbar), Mary McDonnell (Stands With A Fist), Graham Greene (Kicking Bird), Rodney A. Grant (Wind In His Hair), Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman (Ten Bears), Tantoo Cardinal (Black Shawl), Robert Pastorelli (Timmons), Charles Rocket (Lieutenant Elgin), Maury Chaykin (Major Fambrough) and Wes Studi (Toughest Pawnee).


JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)

JFK is a protracted experience. It runs over three hours, it has no real narrative structure–the film opens with the Kennedy assassination and an introduction to the principal characters (and some of the possible conspirators, always played quite well by a guest star), then jumps ahead three years where it starts chronicling lead Kevin Costner’s investigation into the assassination. He’s the New Orleans District Attorney (there’s a reason for him to get involved–presumably true, JFK is based on the real life DA) and the film does culminate in a trial, but it’s not a courtroom thriller and it’s not a mystery. It’s a lecture. Director Stone delivers the lecture through endless–yet always well-acted–expository dialogue, beautifully filmed flashback scenes (cinematographer Robert Richardson does breathtaking work) and then lead Costner. Stone’s not good at the courtroom stuff. It’s about an hour of Costner talking. Costner does really well in it, but it’s just too much. Overall, JFK is just too much.

There’s lots of good acting, lots of great acting. Even Joe Pesci’s weird portrayal of one of the possible conspirators–Stone doesn’t assign much malice to the “villains” because he doesn’t want to get too bogged down in actual politics. JFK is simultaneously for the informed and the ignorant. Stone nods at respecting the informed, but he doesn’t care about the ignorant at all. There’s nothing but exposition in the film and never any to get the viewer into the ground situation. It ought to come with a viewer’s guide explaining the historical authenticity of each assassination detail. So while Pesci is a little much, he’s a wonderful contrast to too serious Costner.

The great acting comes from bigger name guest stars like Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman. The parts are sort of thin–caricatures again–but the actors figure out a reality to the scene and their character in it. It’s Stone’s direction. These people aren’t people, they’re subjects to be examined. The good acting is from the big name players in cameo parts–Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Donald Sutherland and John Candy don’t have great parts, but there’s some humanity to them because they’re supposedly real people so there’s some implied backstory. Stone leans a lot on what the viewer should be understanding. It’s annoying. Then there are some great smaller parts. The “regular” folk, like Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Wayne Knight. Rooker and Sanders both get a lot of material–Metcalf and Wayne Knight do not. Stone doesn’t give these actors real roles, just great scenes opposite Costner and each other. They’re on exposition duty. Stone clearly appreciates having such a good supporting cast.

The film follows the following general structure. 1963 assassination sadness, fast forward to 1966 for Costner to start his investigation. Then big final courtroom sequence. It’s well-acted but not a good courtroom sequence. And the film’s already shaky as the narrative drops guest star opportunities and filling in with Costner’s marital problems, which does give Sissy Spacek something to do as the wife, just makes it drag more. Costner might be playing a real person, but he’s doing it through caricature.

JFK sort of works out. Also has a rather outstanding John Williams score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Stone; screenplay by Stone and Zachary Sklar, based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia; music by John Williams; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by A. Kitman Ho; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Jim Garrison), Tommy Lee Jones (Clay Shaw), Kevin Bacon (Willie O’Keefe), Gary Oldman (Lee Harvey Oswald), Sissy Spacek (Liz Garrison), Joe Pesci (David Ferrie), Michael Rooker (Bill Broussard), Jay O. Sanders (Lou Ivon), Laurie Metcalf (Susie Cox), Wayne Knight (Numa Bertel), Brian Doyle-Murray (Jack Ruby), Beata Pozniak Daniels (Marina Oswald), Edward Asner (Guy Bannister), Jack Lemmon (Jack Martin), Walter Matthau (Senator Long), John Candy (Dean Andrews), Sally Kirkland (Rose Cheramie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Bill Newman) and Donald Sutherland (X).


Man of Steel (2013, Zack Snyder)

Man of Steel is good. It’s really good. Not only is it really good, I like it enough for a 500 word special.

There’s always a moment in a good action movie when it eventually runs out of steam and one has to give it some thought. There’s a breather scene, in other words. For Man of Steel, director Snyder uses flashbacks to Kevin Costner (as Superman’s dad) for the breather scenes and they aren’t breathers. They’re these intensely emotional scenes in between the action, which often have intense emotions too.

The present action of the film takes place over a few days, maybe a week. David S. Goyer’s script never gets exact–he’s dealing with alien spacecraft and a man who can fly so speeding between two locations isn’t a problem–but it never feels rushed. Snyder gets in a few nice little human moments for Superman Henry Cavill, who’s usually busy flying around the planet.

Snyder and Goyer take a moderately realistic approach to a super-powered alien suddenly flying around the globe. They seem to err on the side of excess–why would anyone get so excited about a guy in a red cape when there are alien spaceships too–but they know how to manage it. Snyder’s not original in his approach (he acknowledges his sources in a cute way) but he applies them well.

Snyder’s assured direction would be the star of Man of Steel if he weren’t consciously putting Cavill front and center. Michael Shannon gets a lot to do and he’s great; he and Cavill play wonderfully off each other. There’s a lot of nice subtext in their scenes. Shannon always gives the impression he’s holding back a little, making a well-timed outburst all the more effective.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams does fine. She has surprisingly little to do, even though she’s undeniably integral. She’s not the star and Snyder and Goyer’s economy doesn’t allow for her to have much to herself.

Costner and Diane Lane are both excellent as Cavill’s adoptive parents. Snyder gets away with implying a lot about their relationship; the music from Hans Zimmer, Amir Mokri’s photography and David Brenner’s editing are essential to those implications. Snyder doesn’t exactly require a lot from his audience, but he’s definitely setting certain bars higher than others. The fight scenes, while technically magnificent, are still rather simple. The character stuff… he veers towards the sublime.

And there’s an even mix of character and action, even for the supporting cast (so when they forget someone, it’s unfortunately noticeable).

Russell Crowe’s good in the Brando role, surprisingly so, even if he’s around a little much. Not around enough is Ayelet Zurer as Cavill’s birth mother. She’s fantastic in her scenes. Antje Traue doesn’t have enough to do, but Goyer still takes the time to give her a whole arc with Christopher Meloni’s military guy.

Man of Steel can’t be much better. Goyer, Snyder and Cavill (and Zimmer) hit all the right notes.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder and Emma Thomas; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Henry Cavill (Clark Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Ayelet Zurer (Lara Lor-Van), Antje Traue (Faora-Ul), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton), Michael Kelly (Steve Lombard) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White).


Mr. Brooks (2007, Bruce A. Evans)

The scariest thing about Mr. Brooks, ostensibly a serial killer thriller, is what if it’s not an absurdist comedy. What if we’re really supposed to believe Demi Moore is a millionaire cop who’s out to get the bad guys….

Thankfully, between William Hurt’s performance (he gleefully chews scenery like his omnipresent gum) as Kevin Costner’s imaginary friend and then Costner’s silly nasal voice, it’s impossible to take seriously. And I’m not even mentioning when the movie obviously lifts scenes from Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs… or makes fun of Demi Moore being married to Ashton Kutcher.

The first half of the film maintains this absurdist approach—some of the dialogue between Moore and Lindsay Crouse is so funny, it’s hard to believe Crouse could keep a straight face. Unfortunately, writers Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon can’t keep up the farcical nature and eventually feel the need to insert narrative. There’s actual potential, but it’s problematic given the film as it exists so far.

For example, Hurt sort of disappears and Moore becomes prevalent.

Dane Cook’s around too, as Costner’s erstwhile sidekick and Moore’s suspect, and he’s awful. Marg Helgenberger, as Costner’s unknowing wife, isn’t much help either. She sells some of the absurdity in the first ten minutes, but then her presence becomes troublesome. A lot of the plot threads go nowhere.

When it finally gets to the inevitable twist ending, Mr. Brooks has lost the momentum. But, in a certain frame of mind, it’s not exactly worthless.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce A. Evans; written by Evans and Raynold Gideon; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Miklos Wright; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Kevin Costner, Gideon and Jim Wilson; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kevin Costner (Mr. Earl Brooks), Demi Moore (Det. Tracy Atwood), Dane Cook (Mr. Smith), William Hurt (Marshall), Marg Helgenberger (Emma Brooks), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Hawkins), Danielle Panabaker (Jane Brooks), Aisha Hinds (Nancy Hart) and Lindsay Crouse (Captain Lister).


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991, Kevin Reynolds), the extended version

It’s sort of amazing how little personality Kevin Reynolds brings to Robin Hood. I suppose his direction is adequate, but his shots are absent any creativity. Of course, maybe the shots were very creative and then Michael Kamen’s score–a combining, for the most part, of his Die Hard and Lethal Weapon scores–came in and ruined it all.

There are strong elements to the film. Alan Rickman, in the other major Die Hard connection, takes the idea of a sinister villain and turns him instead into comic relief, while maintaining the villainous attitude. Reynolds’s best direction is of Rickman, as Reynolds seems to understand what he’s doing.

Morgan Freeman, Nick Brimble and Michael Wincott are all good. Freeman’s Moor among the Englishmen is some of the script’s sillier developments (oh, wait, I forgot Geraldine McEwan’s witch).

Christian Slater is bad; Michael McShane’s Friar Tuck is weak.

As for the leads–Kevin Costner is appealing enough, if way too old to be playing the character as written. And then there’s the issue of his hair–he’d need a hair stylist in Sherwood Forest every day to get that bouffant style going. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio disappears for long stretches (the film’s too long by about a half hour but the script’s structure needs time to play out) but she’s fine. She’s not in it enough to really make an impression.

Robin Hood’s generally a tolerable blockbuster. Better composition–and consistent photography (Douglas Milsome is all over the place)–would have helped.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Reynolds; screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson, based on a story by Densham; director of photography, Douglas Milsome; edited by Peter Boyle; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Densham, Watson and Richard Barton Lewis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Robin Hood), Morgan Freeman (Azeem), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Marian Dubois), Christian Slater (Will Scarlett), Alan Rickman (Sheriff George of Nottingham), Geraldine McEwan (Mortianna), Michael McShane (Friar Tuck), Brian Blessed (Lord Locksley), Michael Wincott (Guy of Gisborne) and Nick Brimble (Little John).


Open Range (2003, Kevin Costner)

Because I’m a cynic, I have to point out the following–in order to revive the Western, that most American of genres (sort of), Costner had to film Open Range in Canada.

It’s hard to think of a more traditional Western than Open Range. But the way Costner films it, it’s nouveau-Technicolor–the sky impossibly blue, the prairie impossibly green. There’s a subtle thread running through Range about progress and participating in it and not participating in it… but the film’s not about that collision.

Instead, it’s a straightforward Western–some drama, some action, some comedy. There’s even Costner putting in an unexpected Waterworld reference, as Michael Jeter swings around.

Most of the film takes place over a day and a half. It’s not real time, but there’s a deliberate pace and Costner’s able to keep every plot development significant. It makes the film speed through its two hours and twenty minutes. The first act, with this delicate introduction to Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna and Abraham Benrubi, is exceptional filmic storytelling.

The acting’s all great. Costner and Annette Bening have their gentle romance–the most un-Western thing about the film is Costner casting someone his age as his love interest. Then there’s Costner and Duvall’s friendship–these two awkward, asocial men bonding–it’s all very thoughtful and very special. Luna’s good as their sidekick.

Plus, James Russo is fantastic as the corrupt marshal.

Open Range is a quietly spectacular film; it’s tragic Costner’s not recognized for it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Costner; screenplay by Craig Storper, based on a novel by Lauran Paine; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Michael J. Duthie and Miklos Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Gae S. Buckley; produced by David Valdes, Costner and Jake Eberts; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Robert Duvall (Boss Spearman), Kevin Costner (Charley Waite), Annette Bening (Sue Barlow), Michael Gambon (Denton Baxter), Michael Jeter (Percy), Diego Luna (Button), James Russo (Sheriff Poole), Abraham Benrubi (Mose), Dean McDermott (Doc Barlow) and Kim Coates (Butler).


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