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Why Do I Keep Rooting For Kevin Costner?

US actor Kevin Costner attends a press conference for the film "Horizon: An American Saga" during the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 20, 2024.
Zoulerah Norddine/AFP via Getty Images

This week, Defector has turned itself over to a guest editor. Brandy Jensen, former editor at Gawker (RIP) and The Outline (RIP), and writer of the Ask A Fuck Up advice column (subscribe here!), has curated a selection of posts around the theme of Irrational Attachments. Enjoy!

Kevin Costner has been trying to make his film Horizon: An American Saga since before I was born. The three-hour, grubby, violent epic—which is, at its runtime, only a "Chapter 1" of the saga that Costner says may include up to three more films and 11 hours of viewing—premiered out of competition at Cannes, where critics labeled it dull, lifeless, and most damningly, not like a film at all.

And yet, here’s my dumb ass, pretending I have no better way to spend three hours of a late spring afternoon or evening, scrolling through my Regal Cinemas app to figure out when I can get tickets to see this movie.

It would be easy to say something like, "Well, I love Kevin Costner." I don’t love Kevin Costner. I like Kevin Costner. Sometimes I really like Kevin Costner. As a child of the Midwest, and specifically, a child of going on vacation to Galena, Ill. type of Midwest, there was an unspoken mandate that Field of Dreams play every three to four months, lest we all abandon our senses of familial obligation and baseball-centric wanderlust. My affection for that film was not so much a Costner obsession as it was the dreamlike quality of the movie, so lovingly sent up by John Mulaney at this past year’s Oscars. Besides, if there was anyone in that movie who imprinted on me as a child, it was Ray Liotta.

To be clear, I think Costner is frequently a good actor and a good enough director (this puts him on equal footing with, say, Bradley Cooper and one tick above George Clooney, whose directorial efforts are mostly fine, at best). I love the grounded and sexy bitterness he brings to Bull Durham. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should drop everything and watch it right now. It’s literally the season to watch Bull Durham. I love the intrepid curiosity he brings to JFK—here’s an actor who can play both "just smart enough" and "just dumb enough" where I’m left wondering how smart or dumb he is in real life. I love when he explains the meaning of Molly’s Game at the end of Molly’s Game, and I even love his more recent snoozy efforts in the low-rent Western thriller Let Him Go which asks: "What if Kevin Costner and Lesley Manville had to go head-to-head?" You’d wanna know what happens!

Costner's directorial efforts embody a similar type of earnestness—it’s clear that he thinks Dances With Wolves is a Romantic epic, sweeping and sublime and a little bit baffling. It’s the type of thing that should have aged terribly and has mostly aged, well, OK. That’s the trick to Costner: He’ll always hit it right down the middle. He is handsome, but not too handsome. He is clever, but not too clever. He is attracted to beauty without being a little freak about it. He is anything but ironic, yet he knows how to maintain a sense of wry self-awareness. Costner knows he is earnest, and asks, with each new performance, Who cares? He is, in some ways, the golden mean of a movie guy.

It makes him hard to love with any passionate devotion, but it also makes him impossible to hate, which is why I’ve developed an almost elderly type of "Well, bless his heart" response to everything he does. Costner wants to make an 11-hour Western epic in which white people are the good guys? Sure. Costner says he understands race because he’s from Compton, but he’s actually from Lynwood? All right, then. Costner can’t make it to the Golden Globes because he’s sheltering in place in Santa Monica? Of course. Kevin Costner endorsed Mayor Pete? Bless his heart.

We have fewer and fewer Costner types these days, and the greater Hollywood apparatus is almost certainly better for it. How many guys out there do we need saying that Manifest Destiny was good, kind of, for some people? But not unlike Francis Ford Coppola’s equally maligned Megalopolis, or the directing career of Ben Affleck, or Maestro: A Bradley Cooper Film, the Costner star image is representative of a type of mostly well-meaning white-man vanity that it’s important to restrain without eliminating entirely. If these guys want to raise their own money or sell off their vineyards or make movies until they get divorced, by all means, let them go ahead. They are working and failing on their own terms. I’m willing to meet them halfway to see if the effort was worth it. 

I’ll sit for Horizon for at least two chapters, hoping for something I know it won’t be. In the face of increasingly personality-less "four-quadrant" entertainment, the overlong Americana grumblings of an aging movie star feel more and more romantic, if not totally foreign. I’ll continue to root for him, out of some fealty I don’t totally comprehend and which is not returned. After all, Costner didn’t make Horizon for me. He didn’t make it for anyone but himself. Bless his heart.

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