Streampix Watch: Playing Ball with Kevin Costner’s Greatest Hits

Kevin Costner stars in "Field of Dreams" (Universal Home Entertainment)

One of California-born Kevin Costner’s first movie roles was a brief cameo in Ron Howard’s 1982 movie “Night Shift.” He was also the uncredited corpse at the beginning of pal Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 boomer elegy, “The Big Chill,” as the unseen friend who commits suicide, bringing the old gang together at his funeral. Kasdan eventually made good on his promise to cast Costner in a starring role in his 1985 western “Silverado,” but it wasn’t until he played Elliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 version of “The Untouchables,” that Costner achieved stardom, cementing it with a role in a pair of hit baseball-themed movies, “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham.”

Three years later, he hit his career pinnacle, earning  a 1990 Best Director and Best Picture Oscar for “Dancing with Wolves,” his epic Sioux Indian tale which earned a total of 12 nominations, winning seven. He followed that with “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991), Oliver Stone’s “J.F.K.” (1992), Clint Eastwood’s “A Perfect World” (1993) and Kasdan’s “Wyatt Earp” (1994), before his career hit a speed bump with the two back-to-back post-apocalyptic sagas “Waterworld” (1995) and “The Postman” (1997). His 1996 golf comedy, “Tin Cup,” with his “Bull Durham” director Ron Shelton, proved a commercial and critical winner, but it wasn’t until his starring role in the 2012 History Channel mini-series, “Hatfields & McCoys,” that he regained his mojo, earning an Emmy and Golden Globe for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. This past weekend, he garnered some of the better reviews of his career for his role as the  harried football GM of the Cleveland Browns in “Draft Day,” returning once again to the sports films in which he’s experienced his biggest successes.

This month, Streampix spotlights a half-dozen of Kevin Costner’s most characteristic  performances, including “Field of Dreams,” “J.F.K.,” “Tin Cup,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Message in a Bottle” and “For the Love of the Game”:

Tin Cup”: Ron Shelton’s 1996 comedy about a talented, but frustratingly unambitious golf pro marked a return to form for Costner, who enters the U.S. Open to win the heart of Rene Russo, his student. Cheech Marin and Don Johnson co-starred in the film, perhaps best known for the climactic scene where Costner’s golf pro stubbornly keeps hitting the ball in the water as his strokes pile up, though he does earn the admiration of his comely co-star by sinking the shot on his 12th and final try.  The movie debuted at #1 at the box office, and earned a respectable critical reception. Costner learned to play golf for the movie from guru Gary McCord, author of “Golf for Dummies,” who is listed in the end credits as a “golf consultant” and even has a cameo in the final movie.

J.F.K.: Oliver Stone’s controversial 1991 movie detailed the events surrounding JFK’s assassination, with Costner playing New Orleans DA Jim Garrison. Garrison filed charges against local businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged participation in a conspiracy to murder the President, with Gary Oldman playing accused gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.  The film was adapted in part from Garrison’s book “On the Trail of the Assassins,” with Stone referring to his movie as a “counter-myth” to the official findings proposed by the Warren Commission. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture), winning two for Best Cinematography and Film Editing, the most successful of Stone’s trilogy about the American Presidency, followed by 1995’s “Nixon” (with Anthony Hopkins) and 2008’s “W.” (starring Josh Brolin).

Field of Dreams: Perhaps Costner’s most iconic and beloved roles in his career as the Iowa farmer who heeds the call, “If you build it, he will come,” constructing a baseball diamond in the corn field and hosting a series of ghostly presences from the past. Aside from the baseball theme, Costner struck pay dirt as a father who shares a special bond with his son. Writer/director Phil Alden Robinson never again attained the peak of this 1989 feature, based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel “Shoeless Joe,” which was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. The movie co-stars Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta (as Shoeless Joe Jackson), Burt Lancaster, Timothy Busfield, Frank Whaley and Gaby Hoffmann. If you look closely, you can catch Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as fans at the Red Sox game Costner attends. If the scene where Costner plays catch with his son doesn’t get to you, you’re un-American.

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Wyatt Earp: Lawrence Kasdan’s 1994 biopic offers a character study of the legendary lawman, with an emphasis of his childhood and father’s attempts to instill a loved of family and the law in his son. Costner’s Earp experiences a drunken downward spiral after his first wife (Annabeth Gish) dies from typhoid fever, and becomes a gunslinger before finding redemption as a lawman. The ensemble cast includes Dennis Quaid (as Doc Holliday), Gene Hackman, Isabella Rossellini, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Bill Pullman, JoBeth Williams and Mare Winningham. “Earp” was released onlyh six months after another movie about the lawman, “Tombstone,” and earned just $25 million in the U.S., but did pick up five Razzie nominations, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Director, Worst Screen Couple and Worst Remake or Sequel, but it’s not nearly as bad as that would have you believe.

For the Love of the Game: Costner returns to the baseball diamond in this 1999 film about a Detroit Tigers hurler who mounts a quest to pitch a perfect game in his last-ever game while reminiscing about a whirlwind romance. The entire film takes place during a single nine-inning contest, the tension ratcheting upward, thanks to taut direction by “Spider-Man” helmer Sam Raimi, taking a break from his usual genre and horror films. Longtime L.A. Dodger play-by-play man Vin Scully announces the game. The movie co-stars Kelly Preston (as the love interest), John C. Reilly (as his concerned catcher who tries to coax him through the game), Jena Malone, Brian Cox and J.K. Simmons, with announcers Steve Lyons and Bob Sheppard also playing themselves.

Message in a Bottle”: Costner plays the object of desire when a reporter (Robin Wright) tracks the lovelorn author of said note, discovered while on a trip to Cape Cod, in this 1999 romantic drama directed by Luis Mandoki, based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name. The two become acquainted without Wright revealing her knowledge of the love letters, separated by distance and Costner’s refusal to forgive his wife for dying and leaving him. When Wright gains fame from publishing her “love story,” and the two fall in love, before Costnher discovers his letters in her drawer and leaves, feeling betrayed. The film co-stars Paul Newman as Costner’s dad, along with John Savage, Iliana Douglas, Robbie Coltrane and even a brief cameo for Hayden Panettiere as a girl on a sinking boat. The movie opened #1 on Valentine’s Day, going on to gross $52.8 million in the U.S. Costner’s performance in this and “For the Love of the Game” earned him a Razzie nomination as Worst Actor.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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