Daily Dose: Kevin Costner career in transition…

Kevin Costner can’t catch a break these days. Exhibit “A” is THE NEW DAUGHTER, quietly released on DVD yesterday, which was a little thriller that barely saw a theatrical screening last year despite some good reviews. eFilmCritic’s Brian Orndorf called it “proficient chiller” although it garnered a dismal RottenTomato meter rating of 29 percent. Given the limited release of the film it’s no wonder that while liking the movie FearNet’s Scott Weinberg said it felt “a bit like a made-for-cable thriller.” Perhaps Costner’s work will gravitate to ever smaller screens as he approaches his late 50s—Kevin Costner is 55 years old.

But maybe Costner will go the route of William Hurt—become a supporting player in great demand.

I had a chance to interview Mr. Costner in 2008 about the playful film SWING VOTE and asked him whether he was going to make another Western. While not providing any specifics, he indicated a Western was on the table. A look at his IMDB page does not contain a cowboy or gunslinger flick but a film named A LITTLE WAR OF OUR OWN in which Costner will reportedly play a small town sheriff during World War II. And Costner will direct!

Folks will remember that almost 20 years ago DANCES WITH WOLVES netted Costner two Oscars including one for best Director and the top award for Best Picture. And the film holds up even today. Unfortunately, his follow-up directorial efforts were lacking and indulgent—like so many others before him, Costner failed to repeat the magic. And given the blank check he had after the success of WOLVES Costner arguably wasted his chance to cement his legacy. True that OPEN RANGE in 2003 was awfully decent and showed great director maturity, even paying us back for the ultra-long and laborious THE POSTMAN. And RANGE did make money.

But as an actor Costner hasn’t had a major hit in quite a while even though he’s been making good and one would think commercially viable films. Few people I spoke with disliked 2006’s THE GUARDIAN and the following year I found MR. BROOKS to be delicious. But for some reason, Kevin Costner has lost his mojo with mass audiences.

A few years ago, I interviewed William Hurt and asked him about moving from a leading man to the supporting actor that everyone wants in their movies. Hurt had just been nominated for the Oscar as best support actor in the David Cronenberg film A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. And the gifted actor was kind in his response because my question may have been a little insulting, after all Hurt had won the best actor Oscar and been nominated for two more back in the 1980s. And he was certainly not beyond his prime. But the point made was clear: as an actor gets older, the transition to another phase of his career is inevitable and welcomed.

Imagine an independent filmmaker being able to have William Hurt in his or her movie! Imagine being able to get Kevin Costner! Both actors having already made their bones for two lifetimes find themselves in the enviable position of being able to choose projects not based on the expected financial return, but based exclusively on the merits. And that means finding something edgy, challenging and memorable.

Costner’s next film likely to see a release will be THE COMPANY MEN, John Wells’ directorial debut that received mixed reviews at Sundance. After that Costner will re-team with longtime collaborator writer/director Kevin Reynolds in what looks to be a little film called LEARNING ITALIAN. The pairing of Reynolds and Costner goes back to the ‘80s where the two found success with FANDANGO and struck gold with ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. But things crashed with WATERWORLD in 1995. Still, Reynolds work has been consistently good and LEARNING ITALIAN would be his first film since 2006’s mildly successful TRISTAN + ISOLDE.

Nothing indicates though that Costner has sought out and found a supporting role in an edgy film that makes maximum use of his fading star and significant acting talent. Even though others in my profession scoff, I remain a Kevin Costner fan and recognize that his magnetism and charisma shouldn’t be thrown away. His excellent work in 2007’s MR. BROOKS has shown that he can deliver the goods. Perhaps it’s time to see a career reinvention and take a cue from William Hurt. Kevin Costner could very well become the supporting actor that everyone wants to see at the local metro-plex.

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