The Upside of Anger (2005)-The mystery of Kevin Costner's popularity has long eluded me. He is the one of the most charisma-challenged actors of all time, and watching a vast majority of his films is about as fun as sniffing smegma. That said, Costner gives what amounts to one of the best performances of his career in The Upside of Anger, and he is just one of several reasons to check out writer-director Mike Binder's film. Costner is thankfully relegated to supporting status as Denny Davies, the alcoholic neighbor of Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), an equally inebriated mother of four who is very bitter about being left by her husband. Terry and Denny enter into a strange affair, fueled by booze and Terry's all-consuming anger. But within the dysfunction of their rocky romance, the couple begins to find the strength to heal the wounds they have long suffered. Allen gives a great performance as a woman so consumed by hostility that she has nearly lost the capacity to love or be loved. And Costner, an actor who seems defined by his ability to induce comas via boredom, actually brings a powerful performance to the screen. Skipped by many during its theatrical run-Costnerphobia is a strong thing to shake-The Upside of Anger is well worth seeing.
A Very Long Engagement (2003)-In the follow-up to his brilliantly quirky Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet reunites with star Audrey Tautou, who plays Mathilde, a young woman whose fiancé has gone missing in World War I and is presumed dead. But for the polio-afflicted Mathilde, her love for Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is so all-consuming, she refuses to believe he was executed for desertion on the field of battle at Somme with six other soldiers. Mathilde begins a relentless search to find out what really happened to Manech, and in doing so she encounters the horrors and absurdity of war. She meets others whose lives have been changed, and as the mystery of Manech's fate slowly unravels, so, too, does the fate of the other men who are also believed to have been killed. A Very Long Engagement draws inspiration from Kinji Fukasaku's brilliant anti-war film Under the Flag of the Rising Sun and works on multiple levels as a condemnation of combat, a mystery and an examination of enduring devotion. Jeunet, like Fukasaku, doesn't shy away from the blood-splattered reality of armed conflict, while depicting love as the greatest casualty of war. But at the same time, Jeunet-who is French, after all-complicates the story by never letting go of the possibility that love can survive.