Rating: The Good – 65.4 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 105 mins Director: Kenneth Branagh Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
Chris Pine assumes the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan for this unambitious yet entertaining reboot of the Tom Clancy series. Beginning with his recruitment to the agency, we follow Ryan from England to the U.S. to Russia as he attempts to uncover the latter’s plans for a financial attack on his country. With his handler (an always in-form Kevin Costner) watching over him and his girlfriend (Kiera Knightley) suspicious of his covert behaviour, he suddenly finds himself “field operational” and charged with infiltrating the accounts of Kenneth Branagh’s ruthless former KGB agent who’s leading the Russian attack. Once again, Pine gives us a charming younger version of a well known character and he and Knightley form a strong pairing on which much of the drama is surprisingly built. Best of all, though, is Branagh who contrasts his own peculiar charm with a cold edge that proves nicely intimidating. Impressively, Branagh is also calling the shots from the director’s chair and he sets and maintains a taut pace throughout its 100 minutes. In the post-Bourne world, the set pieces were always going to feel somewhat subdued but they’re all executed with skill. Martin Walsh’s crisp editing is particularly impressive, his job made easier by Branagh’s slick angles and pans. David Koepp’s script is of the efficient variety in that it doesn’t get in the way of the action but nor does it rise to level of his best work. However, where Shadow Recruit fails to live up to its predecessors is in the absence of any substantial agency intrigue or inter-military politics. This should probably come as no surprise given that it’s the only movie in the series not based on an actual Clancy novel but because of this, Shadow Recruit succeeds merely as a generic action thriller, albeit a well polished one.
Rating: The Ugly – 61.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Mick Jackson Stars: Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston, Gary Kemp
Stoic protector Kevin Costner is hired to mind diva movie star Whitney Houston when her life is threatened by an anonymous maniac. With his client growing increasingly unhappy with the new restrictions on her life and everything happening in the midst of an entourage, the methodical minder gets more than he bargained for, especially when he inevitably falls for the women he’s supposed to be protecting. Nauseatingly hyped on its release, The Bodyguard is one of those movies which the world seemed happy to forget in recent decades. However, as a straight up thriller, we’ve seen a lot worse than a relatively original premise being executed with enough twists and turns to keep its audience guessing. The problem lies in the romantic angle which, at all times, seems at odds with characters who are written fit for purpose with the movie’s plot. Writer Lawrence Kasdan needed to raise the sophistication of his characters if he wanted to provide a tenser platform for the mushy stuff but, as it is, their bog-standardness ensure they can’t support anything other than the most basic drama. Fine for a straight thriller, not so fine for a romantic drama. Not surprisingly, therefore, Costner has frequently been better but even at half speed he manages to cut a decent lead. Houston is a little more mixed in her performance. In what could of been an interestingly reflexive role, the actual singer come movie star Houston escapes any acting acrobatics by simply playing herself. And though there are shades of charisma here and there, she spends most of the film belting out one painfully plain song after another before she makes her way to the then showstopping cover of Dolly Parton’s country classic. It’s a whiny turn by virtue of Kasdan’s lack of character ambitions not to mention her limitations as an actress but she nonetheless succeeds in giving us some brief moments of chemistry between her and most of her co-stars. Unfortunately, Costner isn’t one of them and so whenever the movie is shoved into its romantic gear, it labours to keep moving.
Rating: The Bad – 25 Genre: Action, Fantasy Duration: 143 mins Director: Zack Snyder Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner
Zach Snyder’s groaningly familiar Superman reboot in which the kid from Krypton finds himself all grown up on Earth and battling his space daddy’s enemy, General Zod. Along the way he….argghhhhhhhh, seriously, why bother? One could simply label this “thing” as nauseating drivel but so obvious is such a comment that there’s a frustrating feeling of redundancy to such critique. Instead, maybe it’s time we realised that these movies are not well…movies. They are a peculiar product in the guise of a movie but not meant to be critiqued on those terms. Not at all! Artistically speaking, superhero movies have been a fatuous affair for a while now but since their recent explosion in popularity it has become ever clearer that they are no longer even aiming to tell stories. Rudimentary plots, water thin characterisation, stiff dialogue all point towards a concerted lack of interest and investment in the writing of these films. In the mind of the studio execs, they appear to be nothing more than modules for delivering cost effective CGI action to young boys. Kind of like a very long CGI cartoon with big name actors prancing around in front of a green screen. Man of Steel is perhaps the most comprehensive illustration of this. A hectic rush to get a cliched backstory out of the way and then a breathless lunge into a series of mindless CGI battles unfettered by plot and linked together by their mere contiguity. And on the other side of the battle, not one of the main characters comes out any different than they went in. The main players simply dust themselves off and wait for the next adventure which instead of being an “episode”, will be packaged as a “sequel”. There’s no attempt to tell a story here. Lip service is paid to its signature premise in a manner that amounts to the central character’s brief and oh so tiresome consideration of his responsibility as a hero. But once that’s out of the way, it’s time for a long winded antiseptic showdown to unfold – one that will no doubt involve a lot of throwing of one’s enemy across streets, into buildings, on top of cars, across streets, on top of cars, into buildings, across streets……….
Any marks this one gets, is for spelling “Man of Steel” correctly in the opening credits.
Rating: The Good – 68.4 Genre: Drama, Sport Duration: 110 mins Director: Ivan Reitman Stars: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella
Kevin Costner is certainly an actor to keep your eye on. He may have dropped out of the A-List in the mid-90’s but he has remained an astute reader of scripts and, not infrequently, pops up with a very good movie that flies under most people’s radar. Draft Day is one of the more recent examples and perhaps the most surprising given the cloying sentiment the movie embraces from the opening scene. Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, desperate to make his mark on the team by using his number seven pick in the NFL Draft pick to acquire a prodigious defensive prospect in the face of pressure from his owner to go for the quarterback everyone wants. Bowing to the pressure, he makes a deal for the number one spot that his entire staff balk at only to change his mind and try something even more bold.
The drama unfolds over the course of “Draft Day” and sweeps us around the country as one franchise after another attempt to make some magic happen for their teams. But with Costner and his Browns at the centre of it all. Whether it’s the quick pacing or the fascination with team strategy or just the quality of the drama, director Ivan Reitman manages to build a wholly engaging tension that peaks several times across the final act. Opting bravely to mirror the theatre of the event itself, he shoots shiny graphics across the screen, splits it, and litters it with brand advertisement.
Thankfully, a cast full of good pros, either making telling cameos or playing more substantial roles, adds a touch of solidity to the all these bells and whistles. Costner is in fine form as the decent football man just trying to get the team he wants, Jennifer Gardner is fantastic as Costner’s younger girlfriend who announces the morning of that she is pregnant and wants more from their relationship, Dennis Leary is the mouthy coach beleaguered at his manager’s impulsive manoeuvres, Frank Langella is the charming yet power-happy owner monitoring everything, while Sam Elliot, Kevin Dunne, Tom Welling, Josh Pence, and many, many others fill out the rest of universally entertaining roster. Among the benefits to a cast like this isn’t just some great chemistry but plenty of well timed and delivered comic moments. But it’s the drama of the strategising and last minute negotiations that drives the ball home and makes this piece of fluff as thrilling as it is.
Rating: The Good – 71 Genre: Thriller Duration: 120 mins Director: Bruce A. Evans Stars: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt
Okay, so the plot is way over the top but this quirky little movie about a wealthy serial killer (Kevin Costner) battling with his impulses to kill (personified in the form of alter ego William Hurt) is both an amusing black comedy and a very engaging thriller. Costner is as good as ever in the title role and his balancing of family man, business tycoon, tortured soul, and meticulous serial killer wasn’t an easy one to pull off particularly because of the story’s comedic artifice. But he actually nails it and makes for a charming lead who we root for throughout. Hurt is in giddy form as his twisted Id, a partner in crime, who nobody else can see or hear, while Demi Moore continues her recent revival with an equally charming turn as the detective on his trail. Where Mr. Brooks stalls is in the multitude of subplots it presents us with. Actually, four of them work quite effectively together but a fifth involving Moore’s pursuit of a second unrelated murderer is needless and distracting. But while it takes from the integrity of the story, writer director Bruce A. Evans and co-writer Raynold Evans’ irreverent approach to the subject matter softens the blow. Simply put, Mr. Brooks is just about the fun we get from following its twisted plot and seeing three of Hollywood’s old hands plying their trade with the charm and savvy that many of their recent counterparts are missing.
Rating: The Good – 63.2 Genre: Thriller Duration: 124 mins Director: Tony Scott Stars: Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn, Madeleine Stowe
An interesting Tony Scott thriller starring Kevin Costner as a retired fighter pilot Jay Cochran, who heads off to Mexico to take advantage of an offer of hospitality from Mendez (Anthony Quinn), the head of a drug cartel with whom he struck up a friendship years earlier. Of course, Cochran eventually gets to see Mendez’ nasty side when he gets involved with the drug lord’s wife. It’s an original enough story and, because it was made before Scott became fond of hyperactive editing and slow motion shots, it’s evenly paced throughout. Moreover, because the revenge plot is developed patiently, the violence tends to creep up on you which along with its graphic nature ensures it packs a fairly powerful punch. That said, just when you think it’s going to boil over, it kind of fizzles out resulting in an ending which is somewhat anti-climatic.
Oliver Stone’s sprawling account of New Orleans’s DA Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination of JFK is a remarkable piece of work. Coming in at three hours long and replete with dialogue heavy scenes and very little action, this film shouldn’t have worked. However, Stone employed a documentary style full of flash backs and hypothetical re-enactments laced together with quick paced explanatory dialogue which was for the time a revolutionary approach to making a feature. He also populated the expansive story with a seemingly endless array of big name actors which itself was a masterstroke as it allowed the audience to easily remember the various personalities who popped in and out of the narrative. Kevin Costner is terrific as Garrison and carries almost the entire film as he features in nearly every scene. The rest of the cast are excellent while John Williams throws in with a nice little score. However, in the final analysis, this film is ultimately about the Stone’s direction, his and Zachary Sklar’s screenplay, and Joe Hutshing’s and Pietro Scalia’s peerless editing.
Of all Brian De Palma’s forays into mainstream cinema this is perhaps the story that best met his overt style. Kevin Costner plays Elliot Ness, Sean Connery the tough Irish cop (questionable accent and all) and Robert De Niro toplines as Al Capone. At the time of release, Costner was entering the highpoint of his career and was doing a good job in very interesting movies. The Untouchables was no different as he gives Ness some nice depth and just enough personality. Connery may have got the Oscar for his entertaining supporting role but it’s De Niro who strips the paint off the walls with a searing performance as Capone.
The Untouchables was De Palma at his most extravagant and Ennio Morricone met him head on with an equally opulent (and when not opulent – thrilling) score. Thankfully (and not surprisingly) both the style and score work a treat and indeed, they really elevate the famed story to something altogether more interesting. As you’d expect from De Palma, the set pieces as are exquisite with the shoot-out in the train station standing out in particular. The chemistry between Costner, Connery, Andy Garcia, and Charles Martin Smith (with the latter two rounding off Ness’ unit as the gun hand and accountant respectively) is spot on and enjoyably to watch and overall this is a damn good treatment of one of America’s great legends.
Rating: The Good – 78.5 Genre: Thriller Duration: 114 mins Director: Roger Donadlson Stars: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young
From the opening credits as Maurice Jarre’s tense score accompanies an aerial shot of Washington DC, this film exudes intrigue. Roger Donaldson’s film is a smartly written taut political thriller steeped in that classy 80′s style where character and soft lighting were the order of the day. It stars Kevin Costner as a naval officer assigned to the Pentagon who together with Sean Young (his girlfriend) and Gene Hackman (his boss and Secretary for Defence) becomes involved in a dangerous love triangle that ends up in murder, a cover-up, and a manhunt through the Pentagon.
Costner is at the height of his powers and he adds a sharp intensity to the film through a mixture of his good old boy charm and his nuanced depiction of an ambitious career officer. Young gives a memorable performance as the feisty love interest while Hackman just about steals every scene he features in. Most memorable of all, however, is Will Patton as Hackman’s uncomfortably infatuated if not outright obsessed right-hand man. It’s his relationship with both Costner and Hackman’s characters that ties the plot together and given those relationships are both unique and interesting but in very different ways, it adds an additional air of intrigue to the film.
The audience may stumble across some minor plot-holes from time to time but the fast pace to the plot and great performances paint over any such shortcomings. Though No Way Out technically counts as a remake of the 1948 film-noir The Big Clock (which was more closely based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel), the story is totally re-written in line with the paranoia of the Cold War with the only similarities being the essence of that film’s plot. In fact, in the current climate of mindless and greedily motivated remakes, reboots, and sequels, No Way Out stands as a reminder of what remakes were all about back when they happened once in a blue moon and were artistically motivated reinterpretations.
Rating: The Good – 75 Genre: Thriller, Drama Duration: 145 mins Director: Roger Donaldson Stars: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Shawn Driscoll
After delivering the goods with No Way Out, Kevin Costner and director Roger Donaldson teamed up again for this dramatic account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And once again their partnership proved successful as Thirteen Days is a riveting account of the crisis told with all the tension and scope necessary to imbue the audience with the feeling of what it was like to live through those terrifying days. Costner is superb as White House Chief of Staff Kenny O’Donnell, while Donaldson’s direction paints a broad canvas as the action moves seamlessly from the pentagon to the White House to the Atlantic to Cuba. The decision to incorporate real-life footage of the troop mobilisations also paid off in that it adds greatly to the authenticity without disrupting the flow of the film. It was also a brave move to tell the story from the perspective of O’Donnell and although some claim that his role was overstated, on close examination of the film, it can be appreciated that writer David Self is not really attributing any major decisions to him. Instead, O’Donnell is used as a more tempered counterpoint to the Kennedy brothers (excellently played by Bruce Greenwood as JFK and Steven Culp as RFK) as the three characters are forced time and time again into a battle of wits not only with Russians but with their own sabre-rattling Generals. Thirteen Days is a rare triumph in the thriller stakes for a 21st Century Hollywood movie and while the subject matter inevitably helped this, it’s the skill of the principals behind and in front of the camera and their co-ordination with each other that really gives this film its electricity.
Rating: The Good – 73.9 Genre: Comedy Duration: 135 mins Director: Ron Shelton Stars: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson
“The word normal and him don’t often collide in the same sentence.” Delightful sporting comedy with Kevin Costner in top form as an eccentric golf pro who qualifies for the US Open in an effort to win the heart of his therapist (Rene Russo) but is routinely hampered by his constant desire to show off by doing things the hard way. Costner and Russo are excellent together but the real chemistry is between him and his long suffering caddy (the always enjoyable Cheech Marin) who together deliver some of the wittiest repartee since Lemmon and Matthau. Don Johnson rounds off the impressive cast nicely as Russo’s smug boyfriend and Costner’s more successful former golf partner. Writer/director Ron Shelton is a dab hand at sporting comedies as he proved with Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump but this little gem is his crowning moment. Just a shame that at the time of its release, the world was still preoccupied with hating Costner to notice. At over two hours, the running time is a tad long for a comedy but it doesn’t really drag because of the fun being had by all.