On Movies: Costner tackles football in new movie

Kevin Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and Jennifer Garner is his coworker and lover in "Draft Day."
Kevin Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and Jennifer Garner is his coworker and lover in "Draft Day." (DALE ROBINETTE / Summit Entertainment)
Posted: April 07, 2014

Kevin Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns in his new movie, Draft Day. The Ivan Reitman-directed project - a kind of gridiron Moneyball - takes place on that fateful spring day when the 32 teams in the National Football League go hunting for the cream of the year's college crop, signing, trading, strategizing, looking to fill holes in their lineups and, hopefully, find the real talent out there, and the players their competition might have missed.

The NFL draft has become a big deal in its own right, a spectator sport, with the successive rounds of picks taking place over a long weekend. (The 2014 draft: May 8-10 on the NFL Network.)

Costner, who has had a good run when it comes to sports movies - Field of Dreams and Bull Durham (baseball), Tin Cup (golf) - related to to Draft Day's go-my-own-way protagonist, Sonny Weaver Jr., a GM being second-guessed by just about everyone from his coaches to his coworker and lover ( Jennifer Garner) to his mom ( Ellen Burstyn).

Costner is 59 now and has been in movies since the start of the '80s ("Frat Boy #1" in Ron Howard'sNight Shift was an early job). He was Elliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987) and received best actor, best director, and best picture Oscar nominations for his 1990 Lakota Indian epic, Dances With Wolves. He won the directing and picture Academy Awards.

Costner did not miss the parallels between the handicapping, prospecting, and deal-making that goes on in Draft Day, and the handicapping, prospecting, and deal-making that goes on in the movie biz.

"I'm sure, if people tried to handicap me against all the actors that you would have compared me to, when we first started, it would be interesting," the actor ruminated on the phone from Los Angeles last week. "How many have just fallen off the cliff, so to speak - the ones that never went past one or two movies?

"How do you handicap that when you look at someone? You know, how do you measure it? You'd be mistaken if you did it by looks. You'd be mistaken if you did it by height. . . . And you'd be mistaken if you did it by what everybody else said versus what you think."

He adds: "You have to analyze talent, and see if people have a genuine love. You know, if somebody's just in love with the red carpet, chances are that's what they're going to follow. They're just in love with the fame, and that quickly fades, because it's about longevity, it's not about the moment.

"If you just feel like you're going to be popular your whole life, that's unlikely."

Costner certainly has had his ups and downs. Waterworld (1995) and The Postman (1997) are famous flops; the History Channel's 2012 Hatfields & McCoys mini-series, a huge hit; the 2010 ensemble piece Company Men, a critical hit. He was Clark Kent's adoptive dad in last year's Superman reboot, Man of Steel.

So far in 2014, not even half over, he's had three features in the multiplexes - Draft Day opens in theaters Friday.

Costner is the veteran CIA guy opposite Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, released in January, and the veteran CIA guy opposite Amber Heard in 3 Days to Kill, released last month. In the former, his was a supporting role; in the latter, he was the star. Produced by Luc Besson and his EuropaCorp crew, 3 Days to Kill is a high-concept thriller: A special op with a terminal diagnosis is promised a new experimental medicine if he takes on one last assignment. He's in Paris, trying to patch things up with his estranged wife ( Connie Nielsen) and his teenaged girl ( Hailee Steinfeld), a reconciliation interrupted by car chases, shootouts, and deadly double-crosses.

"I'm not happy with 3 Days to Kill at all," says its star, surprisingly. "I really loved playing that part, but no, I'm not happy . . . . I feel like the producers really lost their way and were not helpful in the production of that movie. You could see what I responded to, but a lot of their decisions were really bad, and I really didn't enjoy it at all . . . . I was just not impressed with them. Too manipulative."

Costner wouldn't get into specifics, but he says he found himself questioning the film's EuropaCorp producers. Besson and his partner, Adi Hasak, also wrote the screenplay.

"Oh, yeah. And I think all my arguments were right."

EuropaCorp executives, reached through Relativity Media, their U.S. partner, responded with a "no comment."

Costner, who lives in Santa Barbara, has two films in the bank. One is McFarland, directed by Whale Rider's Niki Caro and coming from Disney, with the star in the title role - a high school track coach working with a group of mostly poor Latino kids whose families are farm laborers. "They don't have a lot going for them except their big hearts," he says. "So it's a true story about cross-country running here in California."

The other, Black and White, is a contemporary drama with racism as its central theme. He financed the project himself.

"No one really wanted to make it, but I felt it was an important movie to make. And I thought it was very entertaining," he says. "It doesn't have distribution yet, so I hope that that happens, but I think it's a real quality movie, I think audiences will feel that, too. . . . It's just a way into having this most delicate of conversations, and I think, much in the same way that James Earl Jones explained baseball to us in a mythical way [in Field of Dreams], there's a character in Black and White that explains to us the notions of racism."

Costner says that if he doesn't find a distributor, he'll consider self-releasing, as Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez did with 2010's The Way.

"That could be my fate. We'll see."

Costner also says he intends to start directing again. His last turn behind the camera was in 2003, with the western Open Range.

"I want to try and play out the second half of my career directing more," he reports. "Everybody always asks me why I don't do more of it. . . . And I don't even have a great answer."


srea@phillynews.com

215-854-5629 @Steven_Rea

www.inquirer.com/onmovies

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