Robin CliffordLarry (Clive Owen, "King Arthur") loves his wife, Anna (Julia Roberts), who is having an affair with Dan (Jude Law, "Alfie") who lives with his muse Alice (Natalie Portman, "Garden State"). In the name of love these four people all inflict tremendous pain as they dance around each other, trying to get "Closer."
Mike Nichols returns to directing for the big screen after his multiple-Emmy anointed adaptation of "Angels in America" for HBO with another prize winning stage play adapted by its author, Patrick Marber, but the effect this time is chilly. This handsome looking production features three interesting performances and one stellar one (Owen), but the stage-derived dialogue is too stylized for the screen and there is little emotional investment to be had in the characters' self-induced romantic messes. "Closer" needed a gut punch of a closer but goes soft with a shrug of ambiguity.
Dan is an obit writer for a London paper who is struck by the sight of a young gamine with bright pink hair walking down a crowded street. A second later, he's rushing to her aid, an American who looked the wrong way crossing the street. 'Hello, stranger' is the greeting he receives as she comes to.
A jump in time finds Dan at a photo shoot for the back cover of his first published novel. Seems Alice was his muse, but already he is coming on to the photographer, the also up-and-coming artist Anna, who rejects his advances. Alice has heard all and her tear-stained face becomes a prominent display at Anna's first show. In the interim, a vindictive Dan has set up Anna with a date via an Internet porn site. His plan backfires when his pickup, Larry, becomes Anna's boyfriend, but the confused woman begins an affair with the one while marrying the other. Of the four, only one gets who they want, but on compromised terms.
Marber's big on sprinkling words and phrases throughout his dialogue like code. Pet names and book titles become daggers when parried from lips unaccustomed to their well-intentioned usage. Dan uses Alice's quirky brand of humorous retort in his seduction of Anna and both characters publish books during the course of the film. Larry and Alice, on the other hand, are more primitive and direct with their words. Alice's term of endearment is 'Buster,' where Larry roars the film's most honest line in describing himself as a caveman. The men demand truth, often lying in their attempts to get at it, then do not want it when they receive it. The final 'twist,' which reveals one character's lie to the more unlikely of two partners, reveals little, though. Even more damaging to the film is that the 'love' it is supposed to be about is really only exhibited by one character - the others are all about self-interest.
Owen has a strong, lusty presence as the cuckolded Larry. He's a man's man in battle for what he wants. The ubiquitous Jude Law provides a contrast with his more devious cheat, but we're given no explanation for the shift from the meek, besotted man who fell for Alice to the cockier confidence he displays with Anna. Julia Roberts is always easier to take when her trademark acting ticks are stripped away and she does a good job conveying a woman wracked with guilt who is nonetheless compelled to cause hurt. Portman, who has been getting tons of press for her pole dancing persona, looks striking in her first real adult role, but her character is necessarily childlike. Portman has stunning screen presence but obscures Alice's core, the reinvention aspect of her character blurring the lines of her portrait.
The sharp production presents a clean, cool London that is lived and worked in. Interiors are designed to showcase their denizens' changing fortunes. The private room Larry engages in Alice's strip club is craftily photographed to suggest a fish bowl or the bottom of a genie's lamp. Music, from Mozart to The Smiths, is brilliantly employed to complement the wit, irony or emotion of the scene it is paired with.
"Closer" is a classy, striking piece of work, but there is more to admire than like about it.
Robin did not see this film.
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