It has been almost 30 years since Kevin Costner first appeared on film fans' radars. In 1985, the star and director-to-be appeared in a trio of '80s cable staples about a road trip ("Fandango"), a bicycle race ("American Flyers") and a small Western town full of outlaws ("Silverado").
In 2014, Costner has appeared in a pair of middling thrillers ("Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and "Three Days to Kill") and has generally lost the luster that made him a top-earning, Oscar-winning force in Hollywood.
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But today brings the theatrical release of "Draft Day," an Ivan Reitman comedy/feature-length NFL commercial that puts Costner back in the genre in which he seems to be most comfortable: the sports movie.
More specifically, character-driven baseball movies have been a haven for Costner, whose career as an auteur tended toward vast epics like "Dances With Wolves" (Great!) and "The Postman." (Not!)
Costner first stepped onto the diamond in 1988 with the sometimes filthy, sometimes tender comedy "Bull Durham," a portrait of small-town, minor league ball in which the crafty veteran (Costner) competes for the affections of a sultry groupie (Susan Sarandon) with a fastball-hurling rookie (Tim Robbins). Costner gives a memorable speech about what he believes in -- "long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days" -- and Robbins has a youthful innocence that we've long forgotten in these years after Andy Dufresne suffered the horrors at Shawshank.
Just one year later, Costner starred as the lovable and perhaps a little gullible Iowa farmer who plows his corn to build a baseball field in "Field of Dreams." The movie's downright loony premise -- a farmer hears voices, kidnaps a famous writer (James Earl Jones), meets the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and inexplicably travels through time -- somehow produced the most emotional and nostalgic sports movie I've ever seen. If you don't cry when you realize why Ray had to build the ballfield, James Horner's swelling violins will make sure you do before the credits roll.
Moviegoers and critics largely shunned Costner's 1999 drama "For Love of the Game," in which a Detroit Tigers pitcher ponders his life while throwing a perfect game, but I enjoyed Costner's chemistry with Kelly Preston and John C. Reilly, and the chance to hear legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully call a fake baseball game. "For Love of the Game" isn't a great movie, but it is intensely watchable.
All but forgotten is Costner's most recent turn as a baseball player, albeit in a movie that's not, in any way, about baseball.
"The Upside of Anger" is a 2005 dramedy from comedian Mike Binder ("Reign Over Me") starring Joan Allen as an alcoholic mother coping with the disappearance of her husband. Costner plays her neighbor, a retired baseball player who finds himself falling in love with Allen and her girls, played by the lovable foursome of Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen and Evan Rachel Wood. Allen and Costner have surprisingly electric chemistry, and generated some Oscar buzz that never buzzed loud enough.
"The Upside of Anger" apparently hasn't yet merited a Blu-ray release, but you can discover it on demand and DVD. It's a little messy and the ending might turn you off, but the characters are worth your time. Add this one to your Netflix queue immediately.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. He is a guest in your corn. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.