Kevin Costner is not a favorite actor of mine as his only actual Oscar nominated performance found itself very close to the very bottom of my overall ranking of leading performances nominated for best actor. I can't say this is just a case of an actor being nominated for his worst though since I have not particularly cared for him in many other roles such as Waterworld and the Untouchables. My usual problems with his performance is there seems to be a distinct lack of conviction or interest in the roles themselves. For me this causes him to either come off as an excessively weak even when he is not suppose to be, or just plain dull as he was in Dances with Wolves.
Luckily though this is an unusual turn in many ways for Costner, and watching the film his performance most certainly acted as a pleasant surprise for me. In the role as the intelligent escaped convict who was abused by his father, who is trying to escape the law Costner has the one thing here that he tends to lack in the role which is conviction. Kevin Costner here actually has a strong presence through the film and it is easy to follow him all the way though his attempt to avoid capture while trying as well to be a father figure to a boy who never had a good one just like himself. This is not a vastly different performance by Costner than his others in terms of his actual style but it is in terms of execution.
Costner still actually does sort of do his average man routine as he does in many of his films for better or in most cases for the worse, but here there is just the right twist in that he is portraying a criminal. He never portrays him as a thug of any sort and in most ways he treats him like a smarter but normal person who happen to go that path. I say most ways though because Costner actually infuses in his performance just the right amount of volatility and danger with his presence. Even though he makes Haynes seem like a nice enough man for the most part, there is always an underlying tension in Costner's performance to show Haynes's ability for violence when needed.
What I really like about this performance though is the intelligence of Haynes which Costner effectively brings to life. Costner keeps this rather all rather quiet through his performance as Haynes never shows off the fact that he is intelligent, he merely is. Costner brings this along well in his performance as he conveys the inner workings of Haynes through the film, he is a man who is constantly thinking, and attempting to figure a way out of his predicament. Costner also interestingly has the power in this performance he usually lacks. Here there is the similar type of presence that for example Clint Eastwood had in his younger days, which works perfectly to show strength of Haynes.
The main aspect of this performance though is Haynes's attempt to be a surrogate to the father he kidnapped, as well as dealing with his own feelings he feels toward his own father who abused him. I will say there is one big thing against Costner here and that is in the portrayal of the boy named Phillip played by T.J. Lowther. The problem is Lowther's performance at best is only okay, but rather bad when at his worse. Whenever there is a scene where he really is pressed to show emotional pain, or being distraught he just kind of makes a weird face like Eastwood was desperately trying to get something from the kid but that was the best he had.
Even with a lackluster co-star I still quite liked Costner's portrayal of Haynes's attempt to be a father. Costner is careful in that he does not overplay it to be some excessively heartfelt man ready to instantly become this boy's father. Costner instead shows a wounded soul just trying his best. He is never overbearing in any way, and he shows it as just a natural reaction on Haynes's part. There is though just the right amount of warmth in his performance as he does his best to act in the father role for the boy, even though the connection never becomes quite as strong as I would like. The reason is though because of Lowther, if a better actor had been in that role it could have been astonishing. As it is though it stands as still moving due to Costner's effort but lacking on a whole due to Lowther.
Costner gives a strong performance throughout but the very highlight of his work comes in the very end of his work as the more violent side of Haynes appears when seeing a man habitually abusing his son as he had been. Costner is excellent here actually as he shows Haynes's rage over his own past his own hate at his father which becomes a intense hatred at this man just like his father. In this scene we gain a window into the troubled past of this man incredibly well handled by Costner. He really shows just how wounded this man is that has brought him to the terrible point in his life. For me this is a powerful work by Costner, and I was surprised how moving his final scenes actually ended being for me. This easily Costner's best work that I have seen, although that technically speaking seems like a low standard, this performance raises my view of Costner considerably.