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Review: Black or White

black or white kevin costner

I knew I was going to like Black or White five seconds in. Kevin Costner, out of focus, then faded in. Crying.

He’s in a Hospital and you know what you’re getting yourself in for. More Field of Dreams than Mr Brooks(underrated). More The Company Men (underrated) than 3 Days To Kill (underrated). You get the idea.

This is Costner in safe, family mode. Except it’s actually got something to say. This isn’t Roots, or Amistad. But it elevates itself above most family films by taking on a serious subject matter – and not fudging the issue.

Costner financed this himself apparently, after being so moved by the script. All of that plays out in the opening scene. “I feel so shitty”, he says.

A film about loss and mourning could quite easily be morose and hard to watch. But its pretty clear early on that they’ll be humour to get us through. Costner learning how to do his Daughter’s hair is a start. As well as an ongoing gag that he needs to be more direct and parental to her.

I’m reminded straight away that it’s unlikely Costner will get swept away by a tornado in this – waving to Henry Cavill to let him go. And I’m OK with that. There’s a time and a place for Costner in action mode, and for me, it’s the OK Coral. Or maybe Open Range.

It’s interesting to me that Costner would finance a film like this after his recent “redemption” of sorts. After no home runs in aeons he conjured up Hatfield, Man Of Steel, and Jack Ryan. After the previous ten years that’s a hell of a haul.

It’s also interesting to me that he’s chosen to play an alcoholic again – after doing the same for the same Director previously.

As an environment, it may not be fields and wagons, but Costner makes it work.

Whether he was going through some personal grief, I don’t know. But he’s channelling something here. It’s almost like he feels gratification at knowing this wasn’t for the money. That he wasn’t sat there looking at the figures roll in from the Box Office. This was very much one for him.

I’m not sure if it’s me, but I’ve always picked Actors and stuck with them. As Phil and I often discuss, Kurt Russell is one. Russell Crowe is another. They’ve got me in got the long haul now. And when they’re in local, low budget films I find them all the more watchable.

It’s not that Black or White isn’t worthy in its own right. It’s well acted and heartfelt. It’s got an interesting message at the core of it. And it is joyous at times.

When I was a kid I wrote a comic (if you can call it that) called Black and White. It was about a final war of our times to be rulers of Earth. A team of all blacks and all whites. I had Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphyfacing off against him Stallone and Costner.

I changed the name to Nocturne because of a painting my parents had – and because it all seemed a bit obvious.

The end scene had the leaders of both killing each other off (grenade hand shake). The point being fighting over race was futile and pointless to all.

To be fair to Black or White, it tries to tackle this head on. Strangely that only becomes prevalent 30 minutes in. But when it rears its head, it’s there to stay. Not least because it plays it all straight. And is willing to allude that several of the black characters may use race as a card in their favour.

It makes several conversations spikier than they would be. And in the background, looming, is the fact you know Costner is drinking all of the time. To the extent that he still drives Eloise to school – much to her dismay. It starts to play quite nicely on Costner being a flawed character here. You’re constantly reminded that this might not have a happy ending.

When the custody battle for Eloise gets going, the film hits its stride. It allows Costner to act his age, and look like his life may have passed him by.

When did Costner become old enough to play a Grandfather, anyway? This is a Clint Eastwood role. Costner got old. *I* got old.

Costner is at the crux of the film. He’s the heartbeat of what becomes a moving story. The custody battle starts to unfold and doesn’t look back.

Starting with lines like “you just don’t want her down here with these blacks”. It’s arresting and thought provoking.

Is Costner’s character racist? If even unconsciously? He gives a great little speech late on, in JFK mode, where he explains how he feels about race. Of course the first thing I see is that you’re black, he explains. I’m white.

“Why do you always go there?” He asks.
“What is it with you that means you won’t admit there’s a there there?” Comes the retort.

Anthony Mackie ditches the wings, and is excellent. And as she’s given more screen time, Octavia Spencer is too.

I don’t like a lot of what her character says, but it adds to the dynamic of a grand daughter caught in an ugly custody battle. And by the close of the film I’d say her moral compass is back,

Another aspect I really liked was Costner imagining his dead Wife. He gets several scenes that play out with quite a haunting aspect on reflection.

I recommend Black or White. It reminds us Costner is still acting. And crucially, he has enough money to fund personal projects like this. Long may it continue.

Black or White is on Digital HD from 19th December 2015.


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