© 2004 Ray Wong
Adapted by Patrick Marber from his own play, CLOSER is an intimate film about the lack of intimacy, a close-up character study of four strangers and their tangled relationships with one another.
Dan (Law) meets a beautiful stranger, Alice (Portman), on a London street when a car accidentally runs into her. He is a bored obituary writer and aspiring novelist. She is an ex-stripper-turned-waif from America. They are instantly attracted to each other and soon move in together.
With Alice as his muse, Dan finally gets his book written. In the process of getting his headshots done for the publisher, he meets photographer Anna (Roberts) and falls madly in love with her. Newly separated from her husband, she is intrigued by Dan’s charm and talents, but is reluctant to have a relationship with an involved man. Dan professes that he can’t leave Alice and, all the while, Alice is fully aware of what Dan’s up to. It creates a tense dynamic between the three of them.
Enter Larry (Owen), a dermatologist who has an affinity for raunchy, dirty sex. Through a sinister prank of Dan (one of the film’s most hilarious and telling moments) and a coincidence, Larry meets Anna and they fall in love. When things are going well with them, Dan shows up with Alice at the opening of Anna’s exhibition and declares his love for Anna. Meanwhile, Larry becomes intrigued with Alice. During that fateful night, everything changes for the four of them.
The four leads are very well cast. As usual, Law (ALFIE) is charming and handsome, but plays the selfish, soulless manipulator to great effect. The opening sequence is deceptive, what with Dan’s gawkish and somewhat nerdy innocence. But soon we realize Dan is not very likeable at all; but at the same time, we know why these women are crazy about him. Roberts (OCEAN’S 12) also plays against type -- no more Miss Romantic Comedy here. She is cold, manipulative, and deceptive as well. In a way, her Anna and Dan are made for each other, but we know that their lives together would only lead to destruction.
While Law and Roberts are both excellent, it is Portman (GARDEN STATE) and Owen (KING ARTHUR) who steal the movie. On one hand, Portman plays the same love-struck, naïve lass as she did in GARDEN STATE. As we go deeper to understand her character, however, we find a darker, sexually powerful side of her. Portman plays the duality of vulnerability and control exquisitely. This is by far her most adult and complex performance. Likewise, Owen’s virtuoso portrayal of Larry is three-dimensional, exuding both the sincerity and menace of a man who is sexually raw and emotionally fragile. Granted, Owen has the showiest role in the whole film (he played Dan in the original play), his performance is nonetheless fine-tuned and fascinating.
Nichols (ANGELS IN AMERICA) once again offers us a unique, thought-provoking character piece about fatally flawed human beings. His talent is evident in very frame and his skills help put together a tight production. At 98 minutes, the film’s pacing is just right. He also brings out tremendous, career-defining performances from four of Hollywood’s biggest names, without succumbing to their own public personas.
Marber’s (ASYLUM) adaptation of his own play is taut, intricate, and complex. His dialogue is beautifully written, perhaps too perfect and poetic to be spoken by real people. At times, there is an odd sense that we are witnessing a play -- something that is well-scripted, well choreographed, but not organic. Also, the non-chronological storytelling takes some getting used to. The film’s events are told in episodes, with huge gaps in between. While the connections are made flawlessly through dialogue (e.g. “I’ve been seeing Anna,” Dan said to Alice, “almost a year ago. Starting on the night of the opening.”) the effect is somewhat jarring as we try to put all the pieces together, filling in the blanks. It doesn’t help with flashbacks that are inserted unnecessarily.
There are some great moments, though. For example, the aforementioned scene with Dan and Larry. The breaking-up scene between Larry and Anna is both verbally and emotionally raw. The strip club scene with Larry and Alice is complex, twisted and erotic. Marber’s characters are severely flawed, but they’re also insanely human and flesh-and-blood. While Dan and Anna show us the destructive power of deception and cowardice, Larry and Alice offer a juxtaposition of self-actualization and resolution. While they may not be very likeable people over all, their humanity is genuine and relevant, drawing the audience closer to the core of being such creatures of lust and love.
Stars: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Patrick Marber (based on his play)
MPAA Rating: R for frank sexuality, raw language, brief nudity, and strong adult themes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total Score – 7.8 of 10