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Review: Closer

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The relationships of four damaged people come under the microscope of director Mike Nichols in Closer, a movie so obviously based on a stage play you can almost see the proscenium arch surrounding the scenes. The screenplay, which was written by Patrick Marber and was indeed based on his play, practically drips with intimacy: rarely are more than two of the four leads together in the same scene at the same time, and on those occassions where three or four are present, the movie still explores only two at a time. Closer wants us to see the particular dynamics of the way each of its characters interacts with each of the others, and those dynamics are compelling.

Closer (2004)
Grade: A-
Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Patrick Marber (based on his play)
Starring: Jude Law
Julia Roberts
Clive Owen
Natalie Portman
Studio: Sony/Columbia Tristar

Closer deals largely with lying and sex and the way those two concepts are so inextricably intertwined with modern relationships; in the world of Closer, sex doesn’t come without a generous helping of lies on the side. Each of the four leads–Jude Law‘s Dan, Julia Roberts‘ Anna, Clive Owen‘s Larry and Natalie Portman‘s Alice–lies both to themselves and to their partner of the moment; whenever the truth does come out, damage follows in its wake.

Dan meets Alice when the two lock eyes while walking toward each other on a busy London sidewalk; they meet when she’s hit by a car while crossing the street because she’s locked into that stare. And so the theme of love and sexual attraction leading to pain and disaster gets introduced early. We skip ahead in time a year or so and Dan and Alice are living together–but he finds himself drawn to Anna, a photographer assigned to his picture for a book jacket. She’s drawn to him but rebuffs him when he admits he has a girlfriend; hurt, he plays a practical joke by pretending to be Anna and having Internet sex with an anonymous man (Larry) and enticing him to meet the real Anna. The joke backfires and Larry and Anna end up together. None of that violates our No Spoilers Whenever Possible rule; that’s all setup, moving the chess pieces into position on the board. After our couples are solidly coupled off, then the emotional fireworks begin.

CloserThis movie relies on its actors even moreso than most films and the actors here do not disappoint. Both Portman (a courageous performance in a very risky role for her) and Owen were Oscar-nominated for their performaces and Roberts certainly could have (should have?) been. (It’s easy for us to forget sometimes that Julia Roberts has talent; her movie-star shine sometimes obscures her three Oscar nods and her one Best Actress win.) None of these roles stand out as showy, with the possible exception of Portman’s, and that mainly because hers is the most explicitly sexual. Each of these characters come across as a real person with all of the insecurities, flaws, comedies and tragedies that implies.

Yet while these people feel real, they don’t feel like people I’d want to spend much time with.None of them has any idea what they really want; all are manipulative and cruel in some way. Dan is selfish, shallow and suffers from a severe case of “grass-is-greener” syndrome; Anna’s a coward who doesn’t feel she’s worthy of love; Larry’s angry, hurtful and far too obsessed with sex; Alice is too needy and, later, too cold. The two hours spent in these people’s presence while watching the movie was plenty for me.

To say that Closer is a dialogue-driven movie would be selling it short; Closer is entirely about its dialogue, about what we say to each other in the heat of anger or passion. Marber’s dialogue is straight-edge sharp, especially during the story’s darker moments. Much has been made about the movie’s “filthy” dialogue, but the language isn’t obscene for shock value. These people talk about sex the way real people talk about sex, and talking about sex tends to be dirty. (And if it’s not, then someone’s doing something wrong.) Yes, it’s a little disorienting to see Roberts and Portman using some of this language, but that incongruity helps reinforce the “real person” feeling the movie’s going for.

And speaking talking dirty, here’s something odd: for a story that centers so much around sex, there are exactly zero sex scenes in this movie; there’s barely as much as any kissing between any of its pretty leads. Closer is a very sexual movie but for the most part it’s not a sexy one.

Written by Allen

March 30th, 2005 at 9:32 am

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