Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mike Nichols

Cast: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen

MPAA Rating: R (for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 12/3/04

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Four lost, lonely souls meet, greet, and cheat in Mike Nichols' Closer, an exceptionally written and acted character and relationship drama that puts us in the middle of a complicated romantic square. The perceptive screenplay by Patrick Marber (based on his Tony-nominated play) is brimming with alternately witty and scathing—understated and explicit—dialogue and takes an intimately subtle approach to developing its characters. There's very little to admire about them, but there is a lot to learn. As much as this foursome speaks of love, there's very little, if any, of it present here, and instead, they see their relationships as a game. They compete with each other while in the relationship (who can be more deceitful or honest) and see their current situation as a springboard into the next. It's all leverage, used to boost their own egocentric view of themselves or to injure the competition. It's a cynical worldview, and as these characters go through their dramatic arcs, we find ourselves sympathizing with ones we earlier despised and loathing ones we earlier found charming. Life's a little like that, but the remaining hopeless romantics of the world can only hope these people aren't the kind we bump into every day on the street.

And that's where it all starts—on a street in London. As Daniel (Jude Law) is walking down the street, he catches eyes with a young American woman (Natalie Portman). Suddenly, she's hit by a car and awakens in the hospital with Daniel looking after her. After being treated, she follows him on a personal tour of the city. He writes obituaries; she was a stripper who left New York to get away from a guy. Her name is Alice, she tells him after they visit a park that was special for Daniel and his father. He walks her to his office, but before he can head inside, he turns around. Later down the line, Daniel has written a book based on Alice's life, and he's getting a headshot taken for the jacket cover. The photographer is Anna (Julia Roberts), an American divorcée, and they talk about his book as she photographs him. He asks her to come to him, and they kiss. A little later, Daniel pretends to be a woman on an Internet chat room and attracts the attention of Larry (Clive Owen), a doctor; Daniel tells the doctor his name is Anna. He sets up a meeting at the aquarium, where Larry meets the actual Anna.

Thus begins the initial pairings of the quartet, but partners will change and overlap throughout the course of their relationships. There is only one constant: No one goes to bed alone. The film consists of extended scenes of dialogue that raise flirting to an art and argument to a necessity for survival. On a surface level, these scenes give us a general view of these characters' behavior. Deception is the name of the game, as Daniel starts an affair with Anna which lasts throughout his relationship with Alice. In a painful scene, he reveals the truth to Alice, who breaks down, begging him to reconsider leaving her. Alice is the apparent innocent in the proceedings, but that doesn't stop her from returning to her chosen profession. It's there that she meets Larry for a second time (the first was at Anna's gallery, where the two witnessed the beginning of Daniel and Anna's affair, although neither was aware it was about to happen). Larry and Anna have been married, but she reveals to him that she has been seeing Daniel. The argument that ensues has Larry exploding, demanding to know the intimate details, which she at first reluctantly and later easily gives, and his final farewell bites to the core.

There's more to it, though, and it's in the little details that we begin to understand the external behavior. Larry is not entirely innocent, as he reveals he slept with a prostitute while away at a convention. This brings us back to how he met Anna in the first place. Larry is clearly a sex addict, and even though he seems pathetic on the surface, he has an edge. Take a scene later in the film where Daniel tries to win back Anna from him. Larry takes a demented enjoyment in throwing personal details of Daniel's life back at him. Daniel, we learn early on, lost his mother at a young age, and Larry mockingly points out that Daniel calls for his mother in his sleep. There's something to this that helps recognize why Daniel goes from one woman to the next with such effortlessness (he's dating someone when he meets Alice as well). In an instant, Larry, the pitiable loser, becomes Larry, the hateful cad, and Daniel, the careless womanizer, becomes Daniel, the sad loner. The object of their affection seems equally unsure of herself. Only Alice remains an enigma until the film's final moments, although there's something in her statement to Daniel, "I'm the one who leaves," that hints at something uncharacteristic.

Nichols keeps his camera focused on the actors, allowing them to drive the picture. His use of close-ups helps us to see moments when the characters' inner workings are on display that otherwise might have missed. The ensemble is solid, and all of these actors put on an emotional showcase while still steadily defining their characters. Jude Law's charm makes him likable at first, but once we see the extent of his trickery, that's all gone. That we actually begin to understand and take a certain amount of pity on Daniel as the film comes to a close is a testament to Law's work. Julia Roberts is the weakest of the group, but her performance is still quite effective. She gives Anna enough vulnerability to serve as a relative counterpoint to her male suitors. As Alice, Natalie Portman is dynamic, giving us a hardened yet innocent portrayal of a character that might hold the key to everything going on. And Clive Owen stands out, especially during pivotal scenes where Larry's inner demons finally take hold.

By the end of Closer, we don't find ourselves particularly liking any of these characters, yet we are utterly fascinated by them. There's an appropriate balance to the way things turn out in the end, but no possible outcome could ever be considered a happy ending for these people, who would be on the verge of self-destruction if not for their egos. They will never find happiness, not in themselves and most certainly not in the arms of another, and that is truly sad.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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