Closer (2004)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/03/04 18:53:15

"Everyone screws everyone, in more ways than one."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Here we have four of the world’s most beautiful people, playing the world’s most cruellest. The film is “Closer,” directed by Mike Nichols, who’s made his most assured theatrical release in years and once again earning the title of Big Name Filmmaker. His film, adapted from the play by Patrick Marber (who also wrote the screenplay), is a cold study of lies, infidelity, guilt, jealousy, and just desserts; by the end, you will loathe these people. And yet you will be unable to turn away from their story.

The key to the film comes early, in a scene in which Alice (Natalie Portman) tells Dan (Jude Law), whom she had just met, that she prefers to make clean breaks in relationships. Just say “I don’t love you anymore” and leave forever, that’s her philosophy. But does she believe it? Perhaps, since that’s what she said she just did before she moved to London. But then she gets stuck in a relationship that’s anything but clean and easy. In fact, nobody here does, and slowly but surely, Alice’s “clean break” approach, which once sounded so cold, now sounds like the best way to go.

The problems start when Dan meets Anna (Julia Roberts) and promptly hits on her, never mind the fact that he’s dating Alice (and apparently in love, but is he just saying that?). And then Larry (Clive Owen) enters the picture and falls for Anna. And then things just get messier and messier.

The interweaving of couples is pure soap opera, to be sure, but it’s a bitingly clever soap opera. What we get with “Closer” isn’t just the usual romantic twists and turns, but a long, hard look at the head games people play. The notion of truth and lies fascinates Dan (and apparently everyone else, too), and one has to wonder which he enjoys more, the romance or the deception.

All involved, of course, get exactly what the deserve. After all, isn’t always satisfying to see a player get played himself? But what makes this screenplay tick is how it never settles with the characters as mere pawns; yes, they get moved about in diabolical ways, but it’s the human emotion behind the moves that asks us to lean forward. When one character gets what’s properly deserved, we don’t feel smug over the incident. We feel pity. These people may be playing dirty politics when it comes to love, but they’re still people, and we get to feel every heartache.

What’s earning “Closer” its current reputation, however, isn’t its depth of character, but its sexual frankness. Never in my life did I expect to hear Julia “America’s Sweetheart” Roberts talking about orgasms and sexual positions and cunnilingus and such, but here it is, in all its verbal glory. And why not? When Roberts’ Anna comes to one point in an argument where she spits that “we did everything everyone does during sex,” it becomes clear that it’s ridiculous to not discuss, say, oral sex more often. Why keep the doors closed on something everyone knows? The frankness heard here is refreshing.

And yet it’s never just used for the cheap impact of ooh-they’re-talking-dirty. No, the sex here has a deeper purpose: it’s a weapon, either directly or verbally. To these characters, sex is rarely (if ever) an expression of love. It’s a means to an end. When Larry demands that Anna reveal every last sexual fact of her indiscretion, it’s purely out of spite. This is his dark revenge, to make Anna not only discuss the truth, but to discuss it in agonizing detail. With these characters, sex never heals. It only hurts.

With this whip-smart material, Nichols draws not only superb performances from all four leads, but he also creates a tone that is both intimate and chilly. His camera lingers on faces, reactions, never afraid to get too close to his subjects, always willing to put every inch of pain on display. The result is a work that, like his recent made-for-cable efforts, reveal a filmmaker who’s comfortable in putting raw hurt right up front. Nichols is unflinching, and his “Closer” joins the ranks of “In the Company of Men,” “The Shape of Things,” and “Eyes Wide Shut” as a vicious, haunting, captivating study of the destructive power of the human heart.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.