There are, essentially, two different worlds in cinema. In one, it is about art and original storytelling – the expression of unique ideas and voices for the purpose of thought-provoking entertainment. In the other, it is specifically designed to make money. The former gives us films such as Donnie Darko, Whip It and Being John Malkovich. The latter gives us Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Occasionally, a rare individual demonstrates the possibility of crossing that divide, and participates in projects that – sometimes - have feet in both camps. Alfonso Cuaron can do it. The Coen Brothers can do it. Tom Hanks can do it. And sometimes, believe it or not, Kevin Costner can do it, too.
There are some less than fragrant titles on Kevin Costner’s resume – as you would expect from an actor whose breakout role happened almost thirty years ago, in Silverado. The difference between Costner and most other long-serving filmmakers, however, is that he swept the Oscars in spectacular fashion with his directorial debut – Dances With Wolves – at the age of 36. Peaking so high, so soon, meant he had much further to fall by the time Waterworld washed out of cinemas five years later.
But, whatever ill-advised projects have occasionally cropped up for him since that astonishing first time in the director’s chair, the basic fact of the matter has never, ever changed – this guy rocks a western, and always has done. Silverado, Dances With Wolves, Wyatt Earp, Open Range and the award-winning Hatfields And McCoys – every time Costner puts his frontier face on, he does some of his best work. Even in Man Of Steel – his biggest film in years – his performance as Jonathan Kent saw him channel the spirit of the Old West, trying to come to terms with modern progress.
It was during publicity for Man Of Steel when Costner famously stated that, as a director, he had no idea how to make a superhero movie, but has great understanding of how to make a movie set around a campfire. He’s not kidding, and has Academy gold to prove it. It’s that kind of expertise we’re hoping for, as he mulls over a fascinating project – according to a conversation he recently had with Collider:
“I’ve got this Western that I think I could make. I actually have this idea to make them all at once and release one on Memorial Day, one on Thanksgiving, and then one on the Fourth of July, all within a 12 month span, because it’s all the same story but it truly is a journey, with a fourth movie coming right after. Will I be able to do that? I don’t know. But that’s what I think about, that’s what I try to do. And people go, ‘Oh that’s really interesting, Kevin. We don’t think we can do that.’ And I’m thinking ‘Man, that’s a really good idea.’ I thought that was a true ongoing series, or sequel if you will, that actually was an honest one. A second one wasn’t invented because the first one made a little money.”
A cinematic series designed to tell a story that is intentionally episodic – not a story with a cliffhanger whose next chapter is tacked on only after box office receipts have been tallied. An “honest” sequel, in an original tale. Has there ever been such a thing, that wasn’t based on a series of books? The only one that springs to mind is Kill Bill, from Quentin Tarantino – another rare individual that can cross the art/money divide. What is perhaps most telling about Costner’s views here is that, in an ideal world, film studios would use the vast revenue from giant robot movies and the like to subsidise the original, creative ideas of filmmakers offering an interesting alternative. However, it seems the studio response is often more along the lines of “we don’t think we can do that.”
Regardless, let’s hope that this fantastic idea does, some day, come to fruition because - even if you are not a fan of the Western genre - it is filmmakers like Kevin Costner that continue to push the envelope, challenge preconceived notions, and provide real creative sustenance amid bland, cookie-cutter, audience-tested junk. Filmmakers like these pave the way for more to follow.
If his previous western projects are anything to go by, we could be in for a long wait – even if he is successful in pulling it all together. There is good news to be had in the meantime, however, as he will shortly be playing to his other genre strength in cinemas across the US. If Kevin Costner rocks the western, he is the absolute master of the sports movie. Bull Durham, Field Of Dreams, Tin Cup – these are career-defining performances, and it could well be that we’re about to get another one. Draft Day - directed by the legendary Ivan Reitman – is released in the US on April 11th, 2014, and stars Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Sam Elliott, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn and Rosanna Arquette. That should tide us over nicely.