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Closer (2004)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A blackly funny and emotionally devastating look at love and betrayal"
5 stars

For nearly four decades, Mike Nichols has been hailed by many as one of the great American filmmakers, a designation that I have never fully understood. To these eyes, the majority of his cinematic career has veered between achingly tasteful entertainments that are solid but never spectacular (such as “Working Girl” and “Primary Colors”), wildly overrated works (“Silkwood”, “The Birdcage” and yes, even “The Graduate”) and miscalculations so spectacular that you can’t imagine anyone with even a shred of taste would have deemed them filmable (“Regarding Henry” and “What Planet are You From?”). However, I will admit that when he gets a hold of a piece of material that truly inspires him, he has the ability to create astonishing and unforgettable works of art. He did it early in his career with his wildly misunderstood adaptation of “Catch-22” (a film which looks better and better with each passing year) and, more recently, he made two stunning films for HBO, “Wit” and “Angels in America”. With his latest work, “Closer”, he has once again been truly inspired and the result is one of the great films of his career-a blackly funny and emotionally devastating look at love and betrayal that is simultaneously one of the most depressing films of the season and one of the best films of the year.

Based on the 1997 stage play by Patrick Marber, who also wrote the screenplay, “Closer” is a four-year chronicle of the lives of two intertwining London couples and the emotional devastation, both unwitting and deliberate, that they wreak upon each other in the name of words like “love”, “commitment” and “honesty”. It begins as Dan (Jude Law), an obituary writer/struggling novelist, meets Alice (Natalie Portman), a young American stripper, when he takes her to the hospital when she is hit by a car. The film then jumps ahead a few months as Dan is being photographed for the cover of his first book by Anna (Julia Roberts). We learn that Dan and Alice have been living together and that he has based his first novel on her life. Despite Alice’s obvious devotion to him, Dan wants more and doesn’t hesitate to put the moves on Anna.

She rebuffs him and, in a petty form of revenge, Dan goes onto an Internet sex chat-room posing as Anna and convinces Larry (Clive Owen) to meet her at a location he knows she will be at. They do meet and, amazingly, fall in love. Of course, none of these people, especially Larry and Dan, are at all happy with what they have and immediately set off on a sexual merry-go-round of lies and bedhopping. However, that is the easy part-the real cruelty comes when they admit to their betrayals and somehow explain it in such a way that, in their eyes, it is the other person’s fault that they slept with someone else. One of the ironies of the film is that these cruelties are usually explained away as just being “honest”, even though each person is really lying to themselves. (These characters are so unable to recognize true honesty that when one finally does tell the truth for once, it is dismissed as just another lie.)

One of the ingenious things about “Closer” is the way that it resists depicting any of the four characters as clearly good or clearly bad for what they inflict upon one another. At first, it looks as though we are supposed to view Dan and Anna, two people whose careers are boosted by their treatment of Alice as a commodity (an intensely personal photo that Anna takes of Alice is eventually transformed into a museum gift-shop trinket), as a pair of casually amoral monsters who wind up destroying their relatively innocent partners. In the case of Larry, however, he is inspired at one point, when he learns of Anna’s betrayal, to behavior so monstrous that it could only have come from someone whose contempt for others has been festering for a long time. As for Alice, she may seem to take the hardest fall of all, but we eventually learn things about her as well that suggest that she may well be the most manipulative of the bunch.

Those familiar with Nichols’s career will no doubt see parallels between “Closer” and his earlier films “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Carnal Knowledge”, two works that also dealt with emotional cruelty, self-deception and contemporary sexual mores. However, I am willing to say that “Closer” trumps both of them because while it is just as dark and harsh as those earlier efforts, there is a harrowing emotional core present here that simply didn’t exist in those other films. When the characters lash out at each other, each word has a genuinely visceral impact (if emotional violence were measured in the same way as physical, “Closer” would be on the same level as “The Passion of the Christ”) that will come as a surprise to even the most jaded moviegoer. Equally surprising is the way that when the characters have brief moments when they begin to comprehend the horror of what they have done to each other, Nichols and Marber handle them in a way that allows you to feel for them no matter what they have said or done.

Of course, a lot of the credit for that also has to go to the four lead actors, all excellent in terribly difficult roles. Owen and Law are both spectacular playing the kind of selfish bounder who takes the old song lyric about “if you can’t be with the one you love/then love the one you’re with” and spins it out into a complete personal philosophy; Law in particular has never seemed more engaged than he does here and suggests that there may be a strong character actor beneath the matinee idol looks. As good as they are, the women wind up stealing the show. Julia Roberts, for example, has been a movie star for so long now that many have forgotten that there is an actress behind the famous smile; her Anna is a fearsome and compelling creation utterly devoid of the easy charm that she has sometimes allowed herself to coast by on in lesser vehicles.

However, the true standout performance of “Closer” comes from Natalie Portman, whose Alice is one of the year’s best performances. As a child performer in films such as “Leon”, “Heat” and “Beautiful Girls”, she impressed many viewers with the adult gravity that she brought to her roles. Now, in the first “adult” role of her career, she comes up with a performance that is alternately funny, heartbreaking, sexy and, most importantly, real. At various times throughout the film, Alice represents different things to the different characters and Portman effortlessly shows off all of those sides while still allowing her to feel like a real person and not just a literary conceit. This is a great piece of acting and, in a weird way, I am happy to learn that Nichols decided to remove some nude striptease footage of her from the final cut of the film; by leaving that sure-to-be-distracting material on the cutting-room floor (of course, I don’t think anyone will be complaining about the footage that survived), her work has a better chance of being recognized for the marvel that it is.

No doubt there will be a lot of people wondering why I would praise a film like “Closer”; it isn’t uplifting, it doesn’t have any obviously stated moral and basically boils down to unpleasant people treating each other like crap for 100 minutes. I can’t really argue that, “Closer” may be many things but it certainly isn’t a feel-good film and most viewers will not emerge from it with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts. (This will probably go down in history as the worst first-date film since “Hardcore”.) However, those who want to be pushed and prodded by a film, who think that cinema can do more than provide momentary mindless diversion, would do well to seek it out.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11189&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/03/04 01:15:56
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User Comments

12/28/17 morris campbell mean spirited but HONEST 4 stars
12/09/12 Simon raw, crackling acting. not so smoothly made, but replaces the singular intesity of a play 5 stars
6/25/11 brian Does love turn to hate because of lies...or because of honesty? 5 stars
5/28/11 Shaun A It's a good film, but the heart's not in it. Maybe just not my kind. 3 stars
5/22/10 Dane Youssef One of the finest photographed plays in years. All fucking scorch like Gods. 5 stars
2/06/10 art natalie portman has an exotic dancer YAWN! 1 stars
7/17/09 Lesli Lovd NP..lovd when CO railed @ JR. If uve been cheated on, you'll relate well. 5 stars
12/22/08 CTT Shallow and hypocritical, thank God for Portman's ass 2 stars
4/25/07 mb How Four Pigs With A Bit Of Charm Live 2 stars
3/30/07 David Pollastrini Natalie Portman is hot in this! 2 stars
2/27/07 Keystra Williams Portman and Owen rule. Roberts and Law SUCK. 4 stars
2/18/07 Nick Maday I know Cate Blanchett was good, but I was rooting for Natalie Portman. Loved this movie. 4 stars
2/13/07 Bitchflaps Really quite shit, Law and Portman are vacuous, Roberts asinine, Owen irritating as fuck. 1 stars
10/21/06 Trevor Cathartic 5 stars
10/09/06 Bruce The film had an intrigue to it that makes you want to look deeper 4 stars
7/16/06 Marty character interaction was amazing. owen rocked, roberts was the weakest 4 stars
5/09/06 omar pretty good. i just like the song 4 stars
3/10/06 Tanya enjoyable 4 stars
12/15/05 Christina Silva Closer is the greatest most honest movie i have ever seen. It is so accurate. 5 stars
12/12/05 millersxing What posturing! Oversexed, understated, uber-chic, nauseating "relationship" drama. 3 stars
11/27/05 Cedric Oh, that lucky thong that gets to floss Natalie's dooky ditch! 4 stars
10/21/05 rebecca Vacuous piece of nonsense 1 stars
10/20/05 Uche I think it is a good movioe but I really don't understand the end. 5 stars
9/13/05 ray mero For me, this is a perfect date movie...after which a nicely amused and hooting fuck. 4 stars
8/10/05 ES How to commit adultry badly, I found sympathy for none of them, waste of money 1 stars
7/31/05 TheOthersFan Alice/Jane puts it most succinctly: "A bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully." 3 stars
6/21/05 The Lurchprong Splitter Good acting from Portman, Law, and Owen, but arrogant Julia R just shitting on her laurels! 3 stars
6/14/05 Blanche Pope pretentious rubbish! 1 stars
6/02/05 Indrid Cold A fascinating look at love, lust, betrayal and lies in 21st century relationships. 5 stars
6/01/05 malcolm i had a portman 2xfeature with "Phantom Menace." should've got "The Professional" instead. 4 stars
5/01/05 dfa hello stranger! 3 stars
4/25/05 E-FUNK Clive Owen verbally berrates Julia Roberts. Worth every second of your time. 4 stars
4/19/05 Nicole Baugh Natalie Portman broke my heart in this movie. 4 stars
4/19/05 Elizaveta people do messed up shit to each other in the name of love. 4 stars
4/17/05 Calandria Dexter I thought this movie was fantastic! Wonderful twists! Love can be hard! 5 stars
4/15/05 Carol Conway It was okay 3 stars
4/10/05 Monday Morning Mike Nichols lost a lot of cred with this one. A huge disappointment except for JL and NP. 2 stars
4/10/05 Phil M. Aficionado Nicely made film about the kind of relationships that don't happen 'cuz they make no sense. 3 stars
4/06/05 Roderick Cromar Where I live, people simply don't behave like this. 2 stars
4/06/05 clatz Clive Owen should only play Pinocchio he is that wooden!! Portman is the only thing worhtw 1 stars
4/05/05 Ethan Clive Owen was amazing, good film 4 stars
4/02/05 Eric hardcore satire with characters who have no filter on what they think out loud 4 stars
3/13/05 Daveman A sober, resounding testament to the irrevokable consequences of infidelity... remarkable. 4 stars
3/12/05 Jim Totally engagaing end to end. Clive Owen - wow! 5 stars
2/20/05 fiona HOW BORING! It's Dawsons Creek for 30 somethings. Yaaaawn. 1 stars
2/19/05 abhster Clive Owen makes this movie. What a terrific role, although it's a lead, not supporting 5 stars
2/14/05 Why are fish therapeutic? Fish are not as therapeutic as Natalie Portman's crapper-flappers! 3 stars
2/13/05 H.P. Lovecraft Clive owen rules. Natalie portman too. 5 stars
2/05/05 xxplosive Natalie Portman makes this film worth seeing, she is outstanding throughout. 4 stars
2/05/05 John Bale Theatrical thesis on rampant infidelity, fine direction & acting. Natalie is riveting. 5 stars
2/01/05 lisa w definitely adult themed movie, which had a much different approach to relationships 4 stars
2/01/05 Weeez This film makes you address the darker side of relationships, and consequences. 4 stars
1/31/05 kaz cold as ice..no intimacy at all.. 1 stars
1/31/05 Alison Mosbeck I felt that this film was very well-made, but I was not crazy about the themes it presented 4 stars
1/29/05 Gretchen Lowe Natalie Portman is hot 5 stars
1/29/05 Wendy strange 4 stars
1/29/05 Lisa Clarizio Up there with Lost in Translation as one of the best movies where nothing happens 5 stars
1/28/05 petrushka Beautiful and cruel, fascinating. Portman & Owen shine in this adult look at relationships. 5 stars
1/27/05 Bert Rito Vote #1 Clive Owen for Bond! He was brilliant, as was Portman. Roberts looks like a horse. 4 stars
1/27/05 Roz I loved this movie. A fascinating adult look at truth, lies, fantasy and deception. 5 stars
1/24/05 michael shulman excellent script and excellent acting 4 stars
1/23/05 JDAWG This movie was horrible. "I love u, no, now I love u, but I'm gonna sleep with someone" 1 stars
1/17/05 Victor Amazin 5 stars
1/12/05 Pamela thought provoking 5 stars
1/08/05 aeon i liked it. It made me feel lessl ike a freak because i ask questions like that too.... 5 stars
1/02/05 The Mockingbird That's some honesty right there. I love Portman more than ever, and my my my Clive Owen 5 stars
1/02/05 Movie Lover waste of time. waste of Money. 1 stars
12/30/04 I.S> Worst piece of crap I've seen in years! 1 stars
12/27/04 Lynn disturbing. ruthless. absolutely loved it. 4 stars
12/26/04 Steve Nothing in this movie made me care about what happens. 2 stars
12/23/04 Gilly Concarne execrable 1 stars
12/21/04 carleton fine film , interesting everything 5 stars
12/20/04 Randy 2 excrutiating hours of witnessing 4 miserable, self-absorbed, uninteresting people 1 stars
12/18/04 Kyle Wonderful movie. 5 stars
12/18/04 jcjs wow, humdinger, tough stuff 5 stars
12/14/04 ZF an effective semi-wrenching film about people manipulating each other emotionally 4 stars
12/14/04 Elizabeth Interesting. The dialogue is too "written", though the CONTENT is believable. 3 stars
12/13/04 dbx If you're going to be pretentious, at least be good at it. 1 stars
12/12/04 Lucas Stensland Worse movie I've seen this year 1 stars
12/12/04 Nicole Depressing - shows just how shitty people can treat each other 4 stars
12/11/04 Eric a bit of a downer, but great character development & shows that love/hate is very complex 4 stars
12/11/04 estherben good 4 stars
12/11/04 Dianne I appreciated it, but would be hard-pressed to say I liked it. 4 stars
12/10/04 Maureen I walked out. I was not prepared for the vulgarness. I am not a prude but after 1 hr. of it 1 stars
12/10/04 Suzz so-so acting; terrible screenplay;a 'message' only a 20/30 something could find revelatory 2 stars
12/09/04 I I 1 stars
12/07/04 Dirt Whore beautiful...I want to eat Natalie's ass 5 stars
12/05/04 Gary Not bad......Portman is hotter then ever! Good acting; poor script! 3 stars
12/05/04 Jimmy Kustes For a mainstream movie it had a very indie feel 4 stars
12/04/04 Donna I 4 stars
12/04/04 Kristina Williams I want Natalie to give me a pole lesson...PRONTO. 5 stars
12/04/04 Monica I couldn't appreciate this film. It was too filthy I had to remove myself from the theater 2 stars
12/01/04 Ratana Predicable, simular to other movies. 3 stars
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  03-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 29-Mar-2005



Directed by
  Mike Nichols

Written by
  Patrick Marber

  Natalie Portman
  Julia Roberts
  Jude Law
  Clive Owen

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