I've always thought Kevin Costner was a fine actor, but it was when I viewed his efforts on the supplemental materials of the "Open Range" DVD that I gained a new level of respect for the actor, who put a seemingly immense amount of effort into getting "Range" completed. After a series of projects that have been sharply criticized, Costner as an actor has also shown a lot of improvement in recent years, with "Range" and now "Upside of Anger", where he stars - appropriate to his career, as an ex-baseball player - with Joan Allen.
Allen stars as Terry Wolfmeyer, a suburban housewife who has recently lost her husband, Gray, who has up and left her very suddenly. Terry finds herself falling (if not already fallen) apart, drinking fairly regularly and facing being a single mother to four daughters who are all going through different issues of their own - Hadley (Alicia Witt) is a college student, broadcaster Andy (Erika Christensen) makes some wrong choices looking for love, Emily (Keri Russell) wants to study dance and "Popeye" (Evan Rachel Wood) is experimenting with drugs and seeking love.
Into this whole bunch comes Denny (Costner), a slightly stoned, rather drunk, quite washed-up ex-ballplayer. He mainly spends his time doing a talk show that he doesn't like doing, and making appearances at malls. As for the latter, rooms of his house are filled with baseballs just waiting to be signed. Terry doesn't take to him that well at first, but the girls like him and he's a comfort to her, despite the fact that she doesn't realize it at first.
The film doesn't have Big Emotional Moments or a sweeping score. While "Upside of Anger" doesn't really go as deeply into the thoughts of these characters as it maybe could have, it also stays grounded, and functions as a fairly enjoyable character study. The performances are also good, although Costner and Allen are certainly the highlights, as Costner's washed-up, good-hearted yet messy ballplayer is very funny, and Allen is highly watchable playing a character that's unsympathetic and could have been totally shrill and unwatchable in someone else's hands. The four actresses playing the daughters are very good, although there could have maybe been one less daughter to boost the focus on the three remaining.
There's definitely some great elements at play within "Upside of Anger", such as the two lead performances. I also definitely liked how the whole thing was low-key and tried to let its drama play out at its own speed instead of being sappy or manipulative. At the same time, the movie never quite reached greatness for me. The ending just didn't work for me, and fewer daughters could have given the remaining ones more focus. Still, as a whole, this is one of the better dramas I've seen in recent memory.
VIDEO: "Upside of Anger" is presented by New Line in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and, like the majority of the studio's presentations, looks absolutely first-rate. Sharpness and detail are generally first-rate, as the picture appeared crisp and well-defined throughout, with only a couple of touches of minor softness.
The presentation did show some very slight grain that appeared to be an intentional element of the cinematography. There seemed to be no real concerns here, as edge enhancement was not spotted, nor were any pixelation or print flaws. The naturalistic color palette appeared accurately presented, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The presentation is offered in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. This is primarily a dialogue-driven picture, and as such, it's understandable that the surrounds hardly come into play, aside from some very slight instances. The pleasant, understated score was nicely spread across the front speakers, and sounded crisp and well-recorded. Dialogue also sounded natural and clear. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS presentations sounded about the same, with no substancial differences that I noticed.
EXTRAS: The main extra is a commentary from director/actor Mike Binder, as well as actress Joan Allen. The track is moderated by Rod Lurie, director of Allen's "Contender". There's also eight deleted scenes, a nearly 30-minute "making of", the film's trailer, promos for other New Line titles and DVD-ROM features.
Final Thoughts: "Upside of Anger" has a few issues, but the performances are generally very good and I thought this was, for the most part, of the more enjoyable drams I've seen in a while. The DVD from New Line provides good audio/video quality, along with a nice set of supplements. Recommended for fans of the actors.
The Film B