Review: Closer

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For as long as he can remember, Dan (Jude Law) has wanted to be a novelist and a journalist. The only problem is that he's not very good at either, but in his spare time over the last number of years he has been working on a book that is finally about to be published. His day job is at a local London newspaper writing in the Obituaries section. That is, until one day a chance meeting occurs between he and Alice (Natalie Portman), a spunky redhead fresh from America. The two just happen to meet when she gets hit by a cab and he comes to her rescue. He insists on taking her to the hospital and a conversation ensues, and before long the two of them have spent a lovely afternoon together as they walk back towards his office. Flash forward and it's a year later, Dan's book is about to be published, and he is being photographed for the jacket cover by Anna (Julia Roberts), a recently divorced photographer struggling to make ends meet while she works on a photographic exhibit the likes of which London has never seen. The two hit it off, but Dan has been seeing Alice for the past year and despite his advances towards Anna, it doesn't seem as though anything is going to happen. Dan's bored with his relationship and often fools around online in a nasty sex chat room where on one afternoon he pretends to be Anna and sets up a meeting for the next day at a local Aquarium. The man at the other end of conversation is Larry (Clive Owen), a dermatologist bored with the day-to-day ordeals of his rather meaningless job. Lacking anything better to do, Dan sets up a meeting between the two as a joke, but soon they hit it off. Another year later, Dan's book has been published and failed to become a best seller. He's tired of his relationship with Alice, and Larry and Anna have been seeing one another. At Anna's gallery opening, it's clear Dan is still smitten with her, and the two begin a year-long relationship that they both hide from their respective significant others. It's clear from this point on, that the relationship dynamics between the four will intertwine and bring each other Closer.

Closer, from director Mike Nichols, is an interesting motion picture in that it's structured in a unique fashion unlike possibly any other feature-length film to hit the screen in recent years. It's not that it's structured all that different from a standard film, because it's not, but the way Nichols chooses to tell his story is fresh and constantly engaging. Simply put, the film is not so much a movie at all but more a series of scenes that are interconnected by the central theme of love and relationships and how the two can change over time. When we are first introduced to these characters, we know very little about them. Then, just when we as an audience believe we are getting a grasp of what they are about and what their motivations are, Nichols takes us away from them and shows them in the future. He does this not with your typical movie on-screen titles like "6 months later" but only through dialogue, and even then it's dialogue that only suggests a passing of time. Physical appearances change and motivations are altered as they would in a real life relationship " not everything we feel for another person remains as time passes, and our own wants and needs are altered to suit what we need from a companion. The characters are faced with deep conflicts, in maintaining the status quo or striking out to try and make the most of the situation with another person who is already engaged in a relationship of another sort.

Sitting down in a movie theater watching Closer made for an interesting experience as the film is one that demands a lot out of the viewer. Given the interesting and intriguing approach of showing only the beginning and the end of the various relationships between Dan, Anna, Larry, and Alice, viewers are left at a bit of a disadvantage, as most of the facts surrounding the events that led them to feel and act this way are not shown. However, just as is the case in life, we often remember the beginning and the end and not the events in the middle, so the approach has its basis. Director Mike Nichols, working on a screenplay by Patrick Marber (who created the play on which the film is based), has created a series of characters that aren't inherently likeable, and that's where this film may lose favour with the more mainstream movie audiences. By casting A-list Hollywood actress and queen of the romantic comedy Julia Roberts, there's an almost built-in box office of her loyal fanbase; however, Roberts really does step out of her comfort zone here and doesn't play the most likeable of people. It's hard to really relate to the characters themselves, but similarly it is easy to identify with the situations they find themselves in, which are universal in nature. Most of what makes Closer work as well as it does can be attributed to the strong material provided to the cast by Patrick Marber. The fact that the film is based on a play shows with its small number of characters, limited number of locations and sets, and the fact that most of the action and exposition is dialogue-based. Marber's screenplay is full of dialogue, both serious and comedic, that rings true to anyone who's ever been in either a positive or negative relationship experience. It touches upon the highs and lows with a preciseness unseen in the typical Hollywood formulaic romantic picture.

Closer is almost entirely made up of a cast of only four people. Sure, there are other people in the background of scenes, but almost the entire piece is made up of the interactions and discussions of the four lead actors. Being that Jude Law is the first on screen, it makes sense to start with his portrayal of Dan. Law, who will be seen in seven features this year and who is risking total overexposure having been in Alfie, I ♥ Huckabees, and Sky Captain in the last three months alone, does well as Dan. Dan is pretty much a loser who, through circumstance, lands Natalie Portman's Alice. Law is able to handle the dramatic and comedic elements relatively well, but certainly is one of the weaker links in the acting department. Although I never identified with any of the characters, his felt the most distant. Like it or not, Julia Roberts is an actress who does adequately well in what pretty much amounts to fluffy movies. Here, she tries to be more serious, and while she doesn't harm the film, it's clear that she is not the real star of the picture. The real star of the picture is Natalie Portman, an actress whose work in Garden State I applauded loudly and who, with this role, has quickly shown herself to be one of the people to beat in Young Hollywood. Portman gives a nuanced performance and handles herself with the poise and grace of a veteran. Portman's Alice goes on a roller coaster journey with extreme emotional highs and lows, all the while allowing Portman to still interject her trademark smile and happy-go-lucky personality into almost every frame. Although much debate will likely follow for Nichols' decision not to include her nude scenes in the final cut of the film, it should be stated that the scene in which they would have been featured works better without her full body being revealed to the audience. It's another one of those circumstances where the scene isn't particularly titillating in nature to begin with. The final role of Larry goes to Clive Owen, an actor who played the role of Dan in the London stage version of "Closer". Owen, who's best known to audiences from Croupier and this summer's dreadful King Arthur, gives a breakout performance as the sleazy and slimy Larry. Owen oozes in the role, and more than holds his own in scenes with Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman. This is the definition of a star-making performance right here. His timing with both jokes and serious one-liners is spot on.

So what's the verdict on Closer? That is a good question, because as much as I and the colleague I went with enjoyed the film, it's the kind of piece that is going to receive mixed response from both the critical community and the general public alike. In the two or so days since the screening, I've had the opportunity to talk to a number of people, many of whom liked it and some who absolutely hated it and will be trashing it come publication time. I found it to be an interesting look at modern relationships, and the concept and ideas of falling in and out of love and carrying on affairs with multiple partners. At the same time, I can see how the non-mainstream approach at storytelling and the unrelatable characters may cause some people to wonder just what the entire point of this film was. It moves at a general slow pace, with some scenes taking a long time to unspool while others fly by. At 104 minutes, the film feels more like a play, which will no doubt turn off some other moviegoers who like things to move fast and furiously. I respect what Mike Nichols has done, and as a follow-up to the banner miniseries Angels in America " which was also based on a play " he has rarely had such a strong year. It's certainly not his best work, but is far from his worst. Closer is much closer to an art house release than a big budget mainstream Hollywood picture, and it shows with it only being released on 500 screens in North America during its opening weekend. It's not the most assured piece of filmmaking I've seen this year, but a valiant effort from someone who dares to be different. Strong performances and interesting material make this film worth a closer look.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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