It’s worth remembering that one of Kevin Costner’s most memorable credits is for a film that he does not appear in. When Lawrence Kasdan was filming The Big Chill, he included scenes of Alex, the friend whose death the central group of friends and lovers have come together to remember and mourn, in flashback, but decided to cut his physical presence and personality from the film in the end. Costner portrayed Alex in the scenes that Kasdan ended up cutting out, which is for the better of the film, as the focus becomes more and more about regaining something that was lost in spirit rather than stressing that its an actual, distinct person.
On the other hand, much of Costner’s late career has hinged on men relocating their youthful hope, idealism, and passion, or inhabiting figures of a time long passed. His type, for lack of a better word, is the All-American man, at both his most proud and heroic, and in his most dangerous and delusional states of mind. In the 1980s and 90s, these were the roles that Costner built a surprisingly sturdy and varied career on, leading him to work with such magnum-level auteurs as Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone, and Brian De Palma. His embodiment of the bold and brave, however, also led him to take on two particularly catastrophic roles as a leader of the future in The Postman and Waterworld, only the latter of which has genuine camp appeal and strain of notable imagination.
It’s not surprising, then, that when he returned, following his excellent, galvanic work in The Upside of Anger, he started playing characters that are forced to relive a haunting past – 3 Days to Kill, Black or White, and McFarland USA all center on middle-aged men forced to face their old mistakes and to rethink old strategies or philosophies. Even in the role of Pa Kent in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he represents the nostalgic ghost of a type of straight-shooting father that has so often been idolized in pop culture. In his latest movie, Criminal, he plays a man with two identities, one of a cynical career criminal and one of a young, virile genius-spy, again touching on a kind of rebirth and revitalization of a middle-aged.
To coincide with the release of Criminal, I decided to cobble together Costner’s ten best performances, which range from lifelong boozers and rigid fathers to obsessed lawyers and fighters against the rich and corrupt.