2004Director: Mike Nichols
Cast: Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman
here’s a great old Onion story with a headline to the effect of “Sex No Longer Worth The Trouble.” Mike Nichols’ Closer presents as convincing an argument to that end as you’re likely to see in a film featuring Julia Roberts. Adapted by Patrick Marber from his own play, Closer details the sexual interminglings of four of the most vile, manipulative people to ever exchange bodily fluids.
It opens with Dan (Jude Law; hurry, it’s your one chance this year to see Jude Law in a movie!) catching the eye of a pretty stranger, Alice (Natalie Portman) who returns his gaze and promptly steps into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Dan brings her to the hospital, some time goes by, and they’re eventually living together. Dan publishes a book and hires Anna (a miscast Roberts, whose appeal, after all these years, still baffles me) to take his picture for the jacket.
"No, seriously, you've seen me before. I was in The Bourne Identity, and, um, some other stuff...”
Tangent alert! OK, I saw this movie with my roommate, who is a photographer. She spent most of the film in an angry funk about the inaccuracies in its portrayal of her profession. For example, Anna is a professional portrait photographer, yet her nominal studio contains no extraneous lighting implements. This, as I was told in exhaustive detail, is a glaring error. What I’m wondering is, since the people that shoot films presumably know a lot about committing images to celluloid, why can’t they get the details of the photographic profession right (see also: both Spider-Man movies) in the films they shoot? Could someone look into this?
Anyway, assuming this doesn’t bother the other 99 percent of you, there’s plenty to enjoy about Closer, namely a lot of fast talk about sex. After Anna shoots Dan’s photo, he kisses her. She semi-successfully thwarts his advances, and out of revenge, Dan hooks her up with Larry (Clive Owen), a dermatologist he finds in a sex chat room. Larry and Anna end up married, though Dan still harbors feelings for her. What follows is an unsavory game of sexual musical chairs, in which each of the four rotten characters—can you think of any names less cinematic than Anna, Alice, Larry and Dan?—interact in serendipitous, frustrating ways.
All of the physical intercourse, much of which happens purely for spite, takes place off screen, and most of the film is devoted to snappy conversation about the carnal goings-on. Each character is vicious in his or her own right, and each to some extent gets his or her comeuppance.
Closer will be best appreciated by viewers with some interest in or familiarity with the art of theatrical scripting and performance. Films based on stage plays, more so than those adapted from other media, always make me curious about the source material: what was changed, how it was originally staged, etc. The same is true of Nichols’ previous effort, the spectacular Angels in America, based on Tony Kushner’s play.
"Please, just turn around and tell me what you think. I dyed it just for you..."
I suspect my fascination has to do with the inherent emphasis on dialogue, which is typically far superior to that of films based on, say, videogames. Characteristically, the back-and-forth in Closer is dynamite. These characters relentlessly assault each other with impeccably timed verbal abuse, turning the proceedings into a fascinating case study in emotional sadomasochism. The unforgettable strip-club confrontation between Larry and Alice is one of the best collisions of writing, acting and directing to grace the screen all year, and not just because of the appealing ways in which Portman is photographed.
The dialogue in Closer bears little resemblance to how real people talk. The conversations are rhythmic, stylized and idealized, sprinkled with profundity you wouldn’t expect from such despicable characters. It’s the sort of stuff you’d think to say a half hour after losing an argument.
In a lot of ways, Closer is a hard sell—photogenic actors in various stages of stardom, cast against type, with almost nothing good to say about love. Not exactly a popcorn film for the holidays, but just the thing for the cynics among us who like to see nastiness articulated as elegantly as possible.
By: Troy Reimink
Published on: 2004-12-15