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What movie nearly wrecked Kevin Costner's career?
by Michol Little

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The right script for an actor can either make or break a career. It seems to be all about their ability to see the genius in a script that will enthrall an audience, make high marks with critics, and make the ratio between move cost and gross revenues stupendous. Every now and then a flop movie stands by itself, and a critic can separate the story from the actor's ability to do the best he/she can to make the character take on a life that is believable. Even if the story is just boring, the acting can be brilliant. But add to that equation a stupid movie script and a lackluster performance by an A-list actor, and it many times spells disaster to their career. Every time a movie-goer walks out of a theater, or a DVD is thankfully at its end, a viewer makes a mental judgment on whether the $20 bucks was worth the effort. Here is the formula: stupid movie + good performance = a pass for the actor and a hope you never see that movie again. The second equation: stupid movie + C performance by an A-list actor = career on the rocks maybe forever.

I began thinking about this subject when I saw a clip on Kevin Costner delivering the eulogy at Whitney Houston's funeral service. Honestly? I've never thought of Costner as a "great" actor but totally hot. I was also blown away with the videography of DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990), so as a Director it was a thumbs up for Kevin. Even in that movie I was underwhelmed with his acting performance yet at one time I remember thinking his reputation as an actor and among his peers was one of prominence and potential. Who didn't enjoy BODY GUARD with the wonderful music of Whiney, and again the sex appeal of Costner? Yet, as far as acting is

concerned? I've always felt like he was reading a script with only brief flashes of intensity in his character. This led me to think of other movies that were not only box office flops with horrible reviews but those that actually changed the reputation he had been striving to gain over the years.

So when did the viewers and critics decide Kevin Costner wasn't the giant he could possibly become? Let's consider those movies leading up to his first award winning performance:

1. SIZZLE BEACH (1974). Did you ever know this film existed?

2. FANDANGO (1984). Not worth the time to even write about.

3. NO WAY OUT (1987). Sex and a limo gave Kevin the bump into the hottie list for the first time, yet the movie is totally boring.

4. BULL DURHAM (1987): Yeah! This was the first film you could probably say Costner actually could act. This also seemed to start a theme for Kevin in the types of films he excelled; baseball and westerns. (Well maybe JFK movies too). I would have to say it took 13 years for Kevin to hit the right script at the right time with the right character. In my opinion he became a Hollywood notable with this performance.

5. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989): Here we go again. It's the baseball theme that reaches the hearts of the grassroots American pastime in which Kevin seems to have an affinity for. Personally I thought it was a little cheesy and with little believability, but the acting was excellent and the theme and flow of the script engaging. It is one of the "feel good" movies you'd like to see again; clean, family oriented and minus murder and mayhem. I actually believe the wife's character Annie played by Amy Madigan is the sparkle in the

movie showing her passion typical of the 80's with her gutsy activist attitude toward learning and believing in life's possibilities. It was a movie you could cry at times or laugh, and I found myself wishing I could actually talk to my past relatives to see if life IS better in the light....or cornfield as this movie seemed to believe.

6. DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990). Again, I'm not impressed with Kevin's acting qualities but his academy award winning performance in directing was amazing. It was his pinnacle effort in directing that brought him into a position of Hollywood's Best. The film was nominated for 12 Oscars and received 7 including Best Director.

From this point we have a series of fairly good to almost great movies to include JFK (1991) following a Razzie award (terrible acting) for ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991). So what happened? Kevin just couldn't find the right script or couldn't pick scripts well at all. How did he go from being one of 12 Most Promising New Actors of 1986 to an actor who can't find that Oscar-winning role again? Well, WATERWORLD (1995) happened. I've seen this movie twice and that was twice too often. It must have been a really really boring Sunday afternoon for me. The movie is about life as it became after the entire world was covered in water due to the melting of the polar ice cap except a little known dry area that everyone wants to find. The acting was horrible; the script even worse. The characters mutate to having the appropriate appendages of ducks and fish so they can survive. Can you forget Costner as a pee-drinking fish mutant? I shiver with the memory of it. This was such a bad film it is believed that the movie buffs

of this world couldn't recover back to an earlier image of Costner as one of the beautiful people of film. If you think about it, beside the ability to act, the great actors of all times are those who are selective in their choices of roles; those who can recognize the character they can emulate because they find some type of relationship to that character within themselves. They don't take every film that comes along; they pick the best films. Yes, once in awhile when the film it cut and remnants of their character are left on the editing floor a film doesn't turn out as they would have wanted but not often. There is always that one that the public is willing to forget and forgive. With Costner coming from the amazing DANCES WITH WOLVES and FIELD OF DREAMS, how does one lose the ability to choose the right film for themselves? His career after WATERWORLD took a decidedly downward spiral that seemed to be a runaway train in the wrong direction. The film will probably go into the film annals as one of the most expensive yet stupid films of all times that took a promising career down with it.

Kevin Costner is decidedly a risk taker and now with the 2012 Emmy awards put to bed, we just might see a new Kevin Costner emerging from a decade of flops. His Best Actor Emmy Award for the role of "Devil" Anse in the History Channel mini-series, HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS, yet another western, was a surprise to many who thought the 30 year effort to bring this epic story to film or TV an impossible dream for executive producer Leslie Greif. With 16 nominations (the most ever for the History channel) and 13.9 million viewers on the first-night run episode, I suppose you just can't keep the cowboy down for long.

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Mike Thomas
Sep 29, 2012 12:45 AM
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To quote Peter Griffin, "His movies are so terrible."
or as Cary Elwes quipped, "Because, unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent."

Costner has so much going against him, yet they keep letting him make movies. It's like the bumblebee. By all science, it can't fly, but it does. Costner is Hollywood's bumblebee.

Your slant on the old boy is interesting, though.

Oct 4, 2012 12:34 PM
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Maybe it's similar to what happened to Nicholas Cage. His earliest films are amazing and his acting simply got better. Nowadays he makes (if at all) strange films with little or no acting challenges for the star. Enjoyed your column. I personally like Costner's style but not in every movie.

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Other columns by Michol Little:

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Directors of Actors Make the Film

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Dinesh D'Souza and 2016: OBAMA'S AMERICA


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Michol Little
I've been writing about anything and everything all my life: fiction, research projects, speeches and term papers for anyone who needed help. I'm a single Mom with all kids out of the nest, and now have time to really enjoy my writing passion. While finishing my courses for my MBA, I developed a burning desire to actually publish some of my work in fiction as well as research white paper on most anything that interests me. I work for a national retail food brand as a construction project manager which is my DAY job; and hope to increase my exposure as an author and ghost writer as well as write articles and commentaries for various venues. .

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Michol Little by clicking here.

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