Maybe Costner made it look too easy

The Gripe

February 10, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

A feature in which Sun writers and critics sound off about the movies. There's no easier route to Oscar's heart than pulling off a tough physical transformation. This year is no exception, whether it's George Clooney's gaining 30 pounds for Syriana and acting every bit the burned-out case, or Philip Seymour Hoffman shedding 30 to 40 pounds for Capote and turning into a dapper man of letters. Of course, their characterizations were terrific, inside and out.

But what about a performer who simply shows up on a set looking overweight and then wrings every nip of comic and dramatic juice out of a role? Should he be penalized because he didn't put on a disguise or put out a press alert?

My candidate for overlooked actor this year is Kevin Costner. Without even trying in The Upside of Anger, he created a unique romantic figure: a portrait of the male on the make as a good dog.

As Denny Davies, he's a benign mass of contradictions - and a hefty one. He appears to be 20 pounds heavier than Costner in his Bull Durham days. This retired baseball star lives in a constant beer haze but seeks the elusive spark that will trigger a second or third stage in his life.

The holder of that spark seems to be Ms. Wrong: Terry Ann Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), an abandoned mother of four who is so full of rage that all she can handle is a drinking buddy. But thanks to Costner's expansive warmth, you root for Denny's doggedness and dogginess to make things right with Terry.

Allen was robbed, too. She and Costner swivel traditional gender characteristics - "masculine" aggressiveness and bluntness, "feminine" nurturing and calm - like the rings of a gyroscope.

But Allen at least got mentioned in the walk-up to the Oscars. Costner became the invisible superstar - which is too bad, because in The Upside of Anger, his art is less showy but no less real than Allen's, Clooney's, or Hoffman's. He gives us the unconventional mensch in the guy next door or the lug in the next subdivision.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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