I’ve always been a big fan of Kevin Costner. I loved his performances in Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and For Love of the Game (I know – all baseball movies). He was equally great in The Untouchables, Silverado, and American Flyers. Mr. Costner has had a long and fruitful career. At a press conference for his new movie, McFarland USA, when asked about his recent Critic’s Choice Lifetime Achievement Award recognizing his many achievements in the entertainment industry he said with a laugh, “I’ve been getting these silly lifetime awards lately like maybe my lifetime is just about over.” I certainly hope not. If McFarland USA is any indication, Mr. Costner continues and will continue to deliver a powerful and real performance in many more movies to come.
In McFarland USA, Kevin plays Jim White, a cross-country coach who led a small team of kids from a tiny town in the Central Valley of California to become state champions nine times – more than any other school in the state. His performance is touching and his connection to the actors who play the runners is easy to see. One of them, Hector Duran, said one of his greatest memories of working with Mr. Costner was when they had an early call at 4 in the morning. Costner turned to the young man and said, “Hector, are you cold?” and when he answered yes, Kevin offered the young man his jacket. “It really showed how much he cares about his fellow actors.”
What struck me while at this press conference was how humble and unassuming he was. Kevin has a quiet but powerful demeanor and is extremely polite and thoughtful. At the same time, he is insightful and intellectual as evidenced during the press conference when he said this in answer to a question when he was asked what he learned about Mexican people through this film.
“I’ve grown up in Ventura and also in Visalia and I’ve driven down these roads. And I saw people working in those fields. I’ve played and fought and had friends where their families were pickers…but again I didn’t invest the way I did until Niki brought me this movie, and bending down to work and seeing a field that goes forever and understanding that this is forever. This is every week. This is every day in all kinds of weather. The appreciation of who these people are – this is as American a story as you can possibly have. You think apple pie and baseball is American? No. McFarland is way more American than any of those things. Those are pastimes. What’s American, and maybe I’m going to get a little sentimental here…there is no more American story than parents who are willing to do anything to better their children, to give their children a chance. There’s nothing more American and it’s been playing out over the last 300 years here. So McFarland is not some weird little town like “Oh, poor McFarland.” Poor McFarland? No. Number one, there’s a mythology around McFarland because their lives changed when they understood that they could be champions and repeat that idea. There’s nothing more noble than a father and a mother making an opportunity for their child knowing their life is going to be hard. There’s something very noble about that idea to me and something incredibly heroic about that.”
Mr. Costner summed up the spirit of the entire movie in that answer and he said it with such heartfelt emotion that the entire room was simply listening to his every word. But that’s the kind of enthusiasm he puts into his role as Jim White and it makes this movie so worthwhile. If you want to see a movie that reflects the American story of triumph, if you want to see a movie that honestly makes you want to jump up and cheer, if you want to walk out of the theater feeling like anything is possible, then you need to see McFarland USA.