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Patrick Marber adapted his play, Closer, for
the screen and director Mike Nichols used various locations in London to open it
up, as they say--to escape the four-walled confines of the theater. It looks terrific,
capturing some of the contemporary gloss of the city, but it still feels more like a play
than a movie, telling its story almost exclusively through dialogue, rather than with the
sort of visual narrative that is special to the film medium. But dialogue as riveting as Marber's, delivered by four first
rate actors in peak form, transcends the tricky transition to the screen, delivering a
dark view of contemporary mores in relationships among today's young and beautiful people.
It isn't a pretty picture.
Dan (Jude Law), an aspiring novelist marking time at the bottom of the
journalistic heap as a writer of obituaries, plays good Samaritan when Alice (Natalie
Portman) has a minor run-in with London traffic. Alice, newly arrived in London, is
(unabashedly) a stripper, and, it is later observed, a lap dancer. It's a perfect pickup;
they fall in lust--she, perhaps, genuinely in love--and she moves in with him
Anna (Julia Roberts) is a divorcee whose husband left her for a younger
woman ("Men are crap."). She's a successful photographer who takes Dan's
portrait and initially resists his advances ("You're taken.").
Dan, playing the role of a woman in online chat, lures Larry (Clive
Owen), with a lascivious come-on, to a meeting at the Aquarium, where Dan knows that Anna
will be. Larry, a dermatologist, connects with Anna.
In an ongoing series of scenes spread out over several years, each of
these characters interacts with each of the others and all pursue their varying, often
neurotic, needs--for lust, for affection, for domination, for submission. Contemporary
sexual freedom and the ease of slipping in and out of commitments seems to trap them in
never-ending quests for something better, rather than liberating them to create satisfying
and stable relationships. Truth is a tool to be used--or abused--to manipulate others in
the search for selfish gratifications. "What's so great about the truth?" Dan
Each character, in one way or another, plays mind games on the others,
playing off of their guilt, their insecurities, their neediness--and all in the name of
love. Trust is hard to come by, and it's no wonder with the constant streams of lies.
And yet, a modicum of sympathy remains for these hungry souls; Marber
stays just this side of making them hateful and keeps them human, for all their
misbehaviors. Not very likable, once past their appealing physical attributes, but human,
nonetheless. Ironically, it's Alice, the sex professional, who seems best able to
distinguish between love and sex. In her job, it's all structured role playing and
carefully enforced rules. She understands sex as a commodity and so has the insight to
distinguish sex from emotional intimacy and love. In the end, she's the most likable of
the four and the one most likely to land on her feet.
All four actors are thoroughly convincing in these unattractive roles,
but Portman, perhaps in part because her role is the most sympathetic, is a stunning
surprise. The girl queen from Star Wars has morphed into an actor of subtlety and
strength, inhabiting this complex role thoroughly. Her's is the part that illuminates all
the others and Portman stands as an equal in this peer group of top screen performers.
Nichols' direction maintains an impeccable sense of pacing. With each
scene, he cumulates the evidence until the case is fully made. There's minor weakness in
his delivery of a cogent time sense; the time jumps of varying lengths from scene to scene
are specified, but don't deliver a real feel for the time elapsed.
Frequent excerpts from Mozart's Cosė
fan tutte are on the soundtrack. In the opera, Mozart lightheartedly explored tests
of love and loyalty among two couples, leaving a deliberately ambiguous ending to the
masquerade, exploring the frailty of human emotions while inspiring with some of the most
exquisite music extant for the human voice. The perfection of his art arches over the
imperfections of his subjects. Marber and Nichols take a darker view, superbly executed.
But aside from the borrowed music of Mozart, there's little in the way of leavening in the
film. Cosė is a frothy meringue of satire with a timeless universality; Closer
has the seriousness and density of a Christmas fruit cake, rooted in the contemporary
- Arthur Lazere