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Wednesday, June 13, 2007 02:33 pm

Mr. Costner

A reliable presence, even when he defies expectations

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Untitled Document Kevin Costner needs no introduction, but he seems to need a reintroduction. Audiences mistakenly think that they know what to expect from him. His taking on the role of a serial killer in Mr. Brooks certainly has surprised many of his fans. Costner is generally viewed as the strong all-American actor of the modern era, but a dark, mischievous side often rears its ugly head. This role isn’t actually the most loathsome of his career. That honor goes to his psychopathic casino robber in 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001), an excellent thriller often found on worst lists. Earl Brooks is also deranged, but Costner shades the character with his usual charm. (Remember, Ted Bundy was known to be likable.) Mr. Brooks is a surprisingly unconventional film, and Costner revels in its quirkiness. Costner’s first significant lead role was in the little-seen Fandango (1985). A group of college graduates take off to Mexico for one last drinking adventure, referred to as a fandango, before a few are shipped off to Vietnam. Costner is their domineering leader whose friendship is questionable. Director Kevin Reynolds, who has worked with Costner on other films, has a knack for building suspense in odd places. A pair of scenes involving a train and a parachute-jumping school are marvels of construction. Those skills were also evident in their later collaboration Waterworld (1995), another unfairly maligned Costner film. Costner has shown great affinity for the Western genre. His goofball role in Silverado (1985) brought him some mainstream attention, and Dances with Wolves (1990) became his career-defining film. His best work in the genre was less successful. Audiences may have preferred the action “Gunfight at OK Corral” movie Tombstone (1993), but the Costner starrer Wyatt Earp (1994) is an epic that reaches far beyond the scope of its simplistic rival. Costner brings a dark, brooding reality to the complex and not-so-heroic title character. A similar gunfight is the centerpiece for the highly underrated Open Range (2003), the only decent Western made in this decade. President John F. Kennedy will be remembered primarily for two events, and Costner starred in excellent films relating to both. In Thirteen Days (2000) he is an advisor to Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. In the controversial JFK (1991) he is a district attorney seeking the truth about Kennedy’s assassination. Director Oliver Stone was accused of fictionalizing history, although he was merely dramatizing already existing theories. If you don’t know what is true, how do you know what is untrue? Costner is a reliable presence, even when it defies expectations.
New on DVD this Tuesday (June 12): Breach, Ghost Rider, Days of Glory, Blood and Chocolate, An Unreasonable Man, Daddy’s Little Girls, and Primeval.
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