Reviewed by: Chris

Closer is a deceptively innocuous film about four young singletons in contemporary London that has divided critics fiercely. Set casually and unpretentiously across such fabulous locations as the South Bank, the London Aquarium, the National Portrait Gallery and the Theatre Royal, this intelligent, biting and (at times) shocking film will thrill as much as it will appall.

I liked the four virtuoso performances, tightly scripted action, psychological dilemmas of sexual politics set against a modern lifestyle, constant surprises, and the soul searching it offers on the importance of truth in relationships, the meaning of love and the things that are needed to make a relationship work (or ensure it will flounder). It's director Mike Nichols' most powerful tour-de-force since the classic Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, easily surpassing the more commercial fare of The Graduate or Working Girl, the minor anti-nuclear film Silkwood, or the flawed and over-ambitious Catch 22. It's a film that works on many levels and matures from repeated viewing.

Copy picture

The four lead characters are a newspaper (obituary) writer, Dan, played by Jude Law; Natalie Portman as a new woman, Alice, who comes into his life; a commercial photographer, Anna, (an admirably understated performance by Julia Roberts); and, finally, Clive Owen as a dermatologist, Larry. The actual action is incidental. The main point is the way they interact and form relationships.

Closer has been adapted for screen by award winning playwright Patrick Marber from his stage play of the same name. This may give a clue as to the nature of the film - what is marketed, deceptively, as an almost light-hearted romp (which is what it starts out as), has an acerbic and even vitriolic core that is more suited to serious viewers than those looking for straightforward entertainment. This is also the movie's main flaw: it is not everyone's cup of tea.

Additionally, there will be large groups of people who will be shocked or disappointed. There is not much graphic sex, but there are very explicit verbal battles of a sexual nature, and persons who might be offended or turned off by jealousy arguments about who put what where and what their bodily fluids tasted like might as well save themselves the price of admission. There are, however, some excellent comic moments, such as when Dan asks Anna "Do you want babies?" and she quips back, "Yes, but not today." Similarly, the scene where Dan cons Larry in a sexually explicit internet chat room is almost unbearably funny in an excruciating sort of way.

But the meat of the movie is reserved for big questions about how we view relationships and 'edit out' bits we don't like when we remember them fragmentedly, or through the keyhole of our single, personalised viewpoints. Happily married people who have never had to sail the tempestuous seas of dating and trial relationships may find it harder to identify with the characters, but many others will be able to project themselves into these intelligent, strikingly attractive and trendy would-be relationshippers.

People can put their better selves forward as honestly as possible but then get mired in situations - situations that are of their own making but not of their own choosing and that do not live up to their ideals, and in various ways this is what we see happen in the film. For some, the process of getting 'closer' may be painful, or the closeness may come with the realisation that it wasn't the marriage made in heaven you thought it might be.

In the opening (slow motion) scene, Jude Law and Natalie Portman move towards each other with sizzling self-confidence, oozing devastating sexuality. If they are cocky, it is in the suaveness that affects many eligible young adults, that self-effacing sureness that is designed to elicit the attention of the opposite sex in an almost accidental way. Natalie Portman shines through several remarkably different 'real selves' until the stunning denouement where we can come to know her and understand the difference between her honesty in the sense of trueness to oneself and honesty in the more literal sense.

Clive Owen, as Larry, the realistic doctor who combines intellect and a certain amount of breeding with a sometimes vicious honesty, achieves a performance that will jump start his career to greater things. Julia Roberts, sadly known more for her star appeal than her acting, gives probably her best performance since Erin Brockovich. Instead of stealing the limelight, she underplays it, giving conviction to her part rather than reminding us she is a superstar. Finally, the talented Jude Law as Dan, who aspires to be more decisive and successful than he perhaps has the stamina for, captures our imagination with his all too human failings, his attempts to prove his sincerity, and his good looks.

Closer features a charismatic soundtrack starting with Damien Rice's haunting Blower's Daughter and continues with frequent excerpts from Mozart's similarly themed Cosi Fan Tutti. Like many things in the film, the Rice track, where he sings "Can't take my eyes off you", has more than one meaning. For anyone unfamiliar with Mozart's opera, I can say it asks the age-old question: how much can you really trust your lover? - with earth-shattering consequences for everyone concerned.

In our movie, for those who are seeking some answers from what on the surface is a very cynical view of modern adult liaisons, some clues may be picked up from the throw-away comment, "You don't know the first thing about love because you don't understand compromise." Oh yes - and watch out for who finally makes it through to the end, and ask why. I've seen Closer twice already and can't recommend it strongly enough - although I also hope my comments have put off those people who won't enjoy it and might have gone to see it in the mistaken belief that they would find it digestible.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2008
Share this with others on...
Closer packshot
A four-handed modern drama of sexual mores and interlocking relationships.
Amazon link

Read more Closer reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: Mike Nichols

Writer: Patrick Marber, based on the play by Patrick Marber

Starring: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen

Year: 2004

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Breaking And Entering