Kevin Costner shines in “Black or White”

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One of the interesting things about the month of January is that we not only see the expansion of Academy Award nominated films, but also the release of many would be contenders that simply weren’t recognized by Oscar. One such movie this month is Mike Binder’s Black or White, which happens to feature a tremendously good turn from Kevin Costner. When I saw the film a few months ago, I thought Costner had a chance to impact the Best Actor field…now, that obviously didn’t happen, but at this point others can finally see what I was talking about. Costner and Binder have something here with Black or White, which opens on Friday.

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The movie, which got a small qualifying run last month, is a drama centered around a custody fight over a little girl. Costner stars as an attorney caring for his mixed race granddaughter after his wife passes away. They had been caring for the girl after the death of their daughter, with her biological father out of the picture, dealing with drug problems. Costner’s character has a prickly relationship with his granddaughter’s paternal grandmother, played by Octavia Spencer. The grandmother begins to push to see the girl more, eventually looking to sue for custody. A court battle then ensues. Binder writes and directs, with the cast also including Bill Burr, Jennifer Ehle, Jillian Estell, Andre Holland, Gillian Jacobs, Anthony Mackie, and more.

In a perfect world, Costner would have been a far bigger Best Actor contender for this role. It’s not only one of his best performances in some time, it might very well be one of his best ever. At the very least, it’s top five, that much is almost inarguable. Costner has turned in a similarly strong performance before in a Binder flick (The Upside of Anger), so it’s no surprise that this pairing is producing quality. Costner also gets to show his age in a new way, playing a grandfather for the first time, I believe. It might be the start of the next act of his career, so even though it didn’t manage to crack the Actor lineup (though I think he got a handful of votes), it could lead to a lot of good things in the next few years for Costner. Just watch a particular speech that Costner gives on the witness stand. It might be one of his finest moments ever.

Going forward, as I mentioned above, I hope that this sort of performance gets Costner on a path towards some really juicy new parts. He’s been on a nice little run of supporting roles lately, while still showing he can kick some ass, so this transition might lead to a return to drama for him. Also, it could really kickstart Costner’s filmmaking career as well. He hasn’t gotten an opportunity to get behind the camera in a while for the big screen, so that could be in play again too. Either way, that new combination could put him in line for more Oscar recognition in the years to come, and that’s pretty fantastic to me.

To be fair, the film isn’t perfect, not by any stretch. There are times when it reaches for a commentary on race relations that isn’t as effective as the character study elements. Still, it’s one of Binder’s better works (and probably his most serious to date) and offers up a performance from Costner that really demands to be seen. Black or White might not have made a dent with the Academy, but it will tug at your heartstrings and potentially even move you to tears by the end. That’s the mark of a strong film in my book, and this is one of those, without question. Don’t miss it.

Be sure to check out Black or White this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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