Patrick Marber (Novel: Patrick Marber)
Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
R (For sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language)
Four people. Four ways to build a relationship. Closer guides the audience on a twisted romp through the love lives of four amazingly neurotic people.
The film’s story is incredibly difficult to follow and to start describing now would possibly cause more confusion. Here’s the briefest of summaries. Dan (Jude Law) is a novelist in search of his next novel. Anna (Julia Roberts) is a photographer in search of her next subject. Larry (Clive Owen) is a doctor in search of his next patient. Alice (Natalie Portman) is a young stripper who comes to London to search for a new life.
Through various turns of events, Dan falls in love with Anna and Alice as does Larry. In intermingling turns, Alice falls in love with both men and so does Anna. Each relationship is built on shifting priorities of love and companionship. The complexity comes in where Anna will leave Dan for Larry, Larry will leave Anna for Alice, Alice will leave Larry for Dan and Dan will leave Alice for Anna. All four of them seem to be in love with each other but at odds with whom they should love at any given time.
The film takes place over a number of years as the relationships shift around like a California earthquake. That director Mike Nichols can keep the story together without confusing the audience is a miracle.
That continuity is part of the film’s mesmerizing charm. At one minute, you’re confused why Larry is with Anna and the next minute you’re understanding only too late as he’s moved on to Alice. This constant back and forth becomes more and more difficult to comprehend until the film starts winding to its conclusion. There, the audience becomes painfully aware that these four people are completely incapable of commitment. It’s this haphazardness of storytelling that most symbolizes the relationships of these characters. It’s chaotic and hard to follow because these people are chaotic and hard to follow. Each person has his or her own individual neurosis yet share the same fear of commitment.
All of the film’s complexity bleeds from the pen of playwright Patrick Marber who adapted the screenplay for Closer from his play by the same name. It’s his complex themes and situations that give the film its psychological depth but the story threatens regularly to crush the cast and crew under its hefty moral weight.
The cast performs up to its normal expectations. The weakest element is Law who seems to be stuck in a rut of similar performances. His work is as solid as ever but one begins to question his range when he performs the same act every time. Roberts’s greatest strength is her ability to alter her past performances enough to make them seem new. In Closer , Roberts gives a performance that’s more human and evolved than some of her pop-culture performances in films like Erin Brockovich. Anyone watching this film might think twice about Roberts’ sweet girl-next-door image, though.
Throughout the film, Portman has Amidala (Star Wars Episodes I and II ) moments but her quality is revived in a late-film scene set inside a strip club where her character refuses to play fair with her tortured ex-lover Larry. This scene is among the film’s most energetic as it also showcases Owen’s brilliant work. He has no qualms about going straight over the top with his vicious physician. Surprisingly, it works. Many other films might collapse under that pressure but Owen’s skill as a thespian allow him to stick above the mundanity.
Closer isn’t the kind of film just any audience would enjoy. The film features complex sexual and relationship themes that might leave some viewers cold. Nevertheless, the movie is a unique take on dysfunctional relationships and anyone who enjoys their drama with the right amount of grit and honesty should enjoy this picture.
March 4, 2005