It’s as if Kevin Costner had truly taken to heart the mystical mantra he chanted throughout 1989’s Field of Dreams: ”If I make the movie, they will come.” Using the clout he acquired from a string of hit films — The Untouchables, Bull Durham, and Dreams — in which the 35-year-old actor came to personify American rectitude (heartfelt, dreamy, loyal, brave), Costner convinced Orion Pictures to let him make his directorial debut with an improbable-sounding movie called Dances With Wolves. An Indian’s-eye view of the sacking of the West, the movie blithely ignored all the conventional Hollywood wisdom even as a chorus of skeptics mocked the 190-minute, $18 million folly as Kevin’s Gate. Didn’t he know Westerns were dead? That all that Sioux-language dialogue, with subtitles was poison?
Nope. Costner stayed the course, contributing $2.5 million from his own producing, directing, and acting fees to cover costs. His reward: The film grossed $32 million in its first three weeks of wide release, including opening-weekend ticket sales of $42,733 per theater; the years highest. Critics have generally applauded the film. Since a guilty Hollywood loves nothing more than the renegade who breaks rules (as long as he does well at the box office) Dances is considered the film to beat in the 1990 Oscar race.
The question now is whether Costner’s pristine screen image will prove liberating or confining. ”I was born 30 years too late for the roles I’d really like to play in movies,” he has said, ”and about 100 years too late for the kind of life I’d like to live.” His Dances role as Union Army Lt. John Dunbar allowed him to indulge those wishes, to the delight of fans. But earlier this year, when he bloodied his hands in Revenge, a shallow tale of adultery and murder, his seemingly telepathic connection with moviegoers was broken. Costner was evidently born to play the common man as hero, and that’s why it’s a good bet he’ll bring off his next starring role, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
At the moment, though, Costner is a decidedly uncommon man. As an actor, he is more than just a bankable hunk. As a director, he has separated himself from the pack. He now stands in living contradiction to the lament that they don’t make movies — or moviemakers — like they used to.