Kevin Kline's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Last Vegas star.
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, and Morgan Freeman's names might come first in the posters for this weekend's Last Vegas, but the fourth name on that list boasts a pretty impressive résumé in his own right. In fact, with an Oscar and a pair of Tonys to his credit, Kevin Kline is one of the better-resprected actors of his generation -- which is exactly why we decided to dedicate this week's list to a look at some of the brightest critical highlights from his distinguished career.
10. In & Out
Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) seems to have it made -- he's a well-liked English teacher and coach at his small-town high school, with a wedding to his fiancee (Joan Cusack) on the horizon and a former student (Matt Dillon) up for an Academy Award. But Howard's world comes unglued after his ex-pupil uses the Oscar telecast to tell the world that Howard's gay -- a revelation that proves shocking for everyone, most of all Howard, who thinks of himself as heterosexual. A comedy of errors ensues, ably supported by a cast that also includes Tom Selleck and Bob Newhart, and although it's a premise that probably wouldn't fly today, it was handled so nimbly by director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick that most critics couldn't complain too much. "A man questioning his own sexuality does not seem like the ideal topic for a comedy," admitted Cinematter's Madeleine Williams. "But with a good script, and plenty of humor, In & Out tackles this touchy subject matter with aplomb."
Once you cast Brian Dennehy as your movie's bad guy, you've won half the battle. Fortunately for Silverado director/co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, he also managed to line up a pretty capable cast of heroes for his stylishly assembled Western. Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn and Danny Glover all saddled up and rode against Dennehy's crooked sheriff, and even the supporting cast managed to shine, with memorable turns from Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, and Rosanna Arquette. Westerns weren't exactly in vogue during the mid-'80s -- especially ones as unabashedly retro as this one -- but according to most critics, Silverado made it work; as Roger Ebert wrote, "This is a story, you will agree, that has been told before. What distinguishes Kasdan's telling of it is the style and energy he brings to the project."
The next time you find yourself wondering why more big movies don't premiere on-demand at the same time they're in theaters, think about The Pirates of Penzance. A film adaptation of the Broadway hit, starring most of the original stage cast, it bowed to widely positive reviews; problem was, it had a hard time holding on to theatrical engagements due to Universal's decision to simultaneously send the movie to a pay-TV service. Thus did ticked-off theater owners opt to shun our cinematic Pirates, and lo did the audience suffer -- at least in the estimation of most critics, who felt that the cast (including Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury, and Rex Smith) did a fine job of bringing the stage musical to the screen. In addition to a "well made musical," Michael A. Smith of Nolan's Pop Culture Review deemed it "Proof that Kline can do ANYTHING!"
7. Cry Freedom
The life of legendary anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko got its big-screen due with Richard Attenborough's Cry Freedom, starring Denzel Washington as Biko and Kline as Biko's journalist friend Donald Woods, whose books formed the basis for John Briley's screenplay. Although it arrived at a moment when the South African government's racially oppressive policies were under particularly harsh scrutiny on the international stage, Freedom's stark drama proved a tough sell for American filmgoers, who mostly failed to turn out during its theatrical run. Critics found it problematic due to what Roger Ebert termed its "liberal yuppie" focus, although he went on to admit, "Cry Freedom is a sincere and valuable movie, and despite my fundamental reservations about it, I think it probably should be seen."
One of the heaviest Holocaust movies of the 1980s, Sophie's Choice found writer/director Alan J. Pakula adapting William Styron's heartbreaking novel into an equally shattering film, starring Meryl Streep as the titular protagonist, Kline as her emotionally unwell lover, and Peter MacNicol as the young novelist whose arrival at their Brooklyn boarding house coincides with a particularly fraught period in their lives. While its sad story and deliberate pace proved an unappealing blend for some scribes, most critics were won over by the movie's stellar performances, led by Streep's Oscar-winning work. "Though it's far from a flawless movie, Sophie's Choice is a unified and deeply affecting one," wrote Janet Maslin for the New York Times, "thanks in large part to Miss Streep's bravura performance, it's a film that casts a powerful, uninterrupted spell."