- Julia Roberts as Anna
- Jude Law as Dan
- Natalie Portman as Alice
- Clive Owen as Larry
Based on a play, Closer, as directed by Mike Nichols, brutally tears apart the cruelty and manipulative nature of people when it comes to relationships. It’s not cosy watching, but a bruising and frank exposure of betrayal and hurt, aided by the fine direction and four performances at the centre of it all.
Closer begins with obituary writer Dan catching the eye of pretty, spiky haired American Alice on the streets of London. After exchanging glances, Alice is hit by a car but is not seriously injured. Following this, Dan and Alice become romantically involved with each other. Dan is an aspiring writer who speaks of the greatness and depth of love, while Alice is a stripper who doesn’t reveal a lot about herself though seems to be a largely naive young lady looking for something. Later, Dan has written his book( which he has based partly on what Alice has told him about her life) and has his picture taken by the distant photographer Anna, who he can’t help but feel attracted to. She resists his advances and he decides to get even. Frequenting a naughty dating site, he pretends to be Anna and talks with Larry, an alpha-male dermatologist. Dan sets the two up, yet after the initial awkwardness of what they discover was Dan’s doing, Anna and Larry begin to hit it off. It is here that events begin to snowball for everyone as crossed wires and brutal betrayals plague the group and start an unending run of misery for all. Throughout the film, the four people in this love square swap and wreak havoc on their lives as they toy with feelings and the very fabric of attraction.
The dexterous Mike Nichols is on great form with this relationship drama, delving into the darkness with a withering eye and complex touch. Nichols has successfully charted the destructive essence of flawed people in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and succeeds again with how he dives into a harsh and relentlessly honest confrontation of the urban relationships and the harsh betrayals the four pull on each other. He refuses to sweeten anything for the audience, which deserves applause for not being cowed or overly smooth. The mess that Anna, Dan, Alice and Larry is all by their own actions and we never forget that. Even the moments of humour have barbed and caustic sting to them, mocking how these people may not even know what love is considering the way they hurt and inflict harm on each other. Now even those who don’t know that Closer is based on a play will be sure to guess as soon as the quartet open their mouths. There is something literate yet strangely intimate about the dialogue, which goes for the jugular with progressively raw and savage language. Closer sports some of the most adult and brazenly sexual dialogue you are ever likely to hear in a movie. And the fact that Closer feels very much like a play on film will either turn you off or on. Some of it does feel not very cinematic, though in part that is probably largely the point of it. For me, I found the structure and unusual intimacy compelling and uncompromising. Closer jumps forward in time without the easy use of giving us title cards, letting the script fill in some of what has transpired off-screen and leaving the rest up to you. I found myself quite riveted by this approach as it refused to give any respite and truthfully exhibits the easiness with which this group hops in and out of bed and affections with each other. Closer may deal with the themes of love and adultery, but it is far from a raunchy film. It goes under the microscope of attraction to pull out the ugliness in humans when it comes to the heart and sex. Even a scene of Alice stripping and teasing Larry is turned far away from pornographic fantasy into a battle of wills, with Alice getting the upper hand and ironically exposing very little. The limited use of music, save for a few instances of opera or background melodies in club settings, makes it possible for the harsh and piercing core of the film to really surface and linger.
With this kind of film the acting has to be something to form a deep impression, thankfully the four actors of the piece are more than up to that task. Julia Roberts, who is known for being smiley and charming in movies, turns it right down to star as the aloof Anna. I liked how Roberts wasn’t afraid to play this type of character, whose completely spineless and ambivalent actions are just one of many instances of callous behaviour shared by everyone. Jude Law is good casting as the descriptive but smug Dan, who believes he knows everything yet is far from being a figure of model actions. Law has that ability to really show the ugliness and loathing of a character, that is finely tuned to the part of Dan. Natalie Portman is spectacular in one of her best roles. It’s her understanding of Alice’s many contradictions and mystery that makes the role so memorable. Sifting through the layers of the character, from innocent and vulnerable to cold and seductive, Portman doesn’t miss a beat. It’s truly a credit to her that we think we know Alice for a lot of the film and then we are surprised by the little suggestions that she may not be the most angelic member of this quartet, even though it largely seemed to be that way. It’s a daring and naughty part that calls for Portman to show some skin but not reveal a lot outwardly, a challenge that she rises to and delivers a hypnotic piece of work. Filling the last angle of this love square is a ferocious turn from Clive Owen. He essays Larry as a man who is very charming and frequently the dominant person, but little by little the brute force of him comes pouring out in an explosive way. His anguish and brutal mouth are palpably played by Owen and made all the more shocking due to the intensity of his delivery. All of the principal actors are at the top of their respective games, with Natalie Portman and Clive Owen really burning into the mind.
A cutting examination of modern relationships and the tangled parts that result in anguish, Closer retains a theatrical air that can get a bit heavy-handed, yet that should not detract from the sterling quartet of actors and the acute eye of Mike Nichols behind the camera. Definitely a film that won’t be for everyone, but for those who want an adult drama that doesn’t beat around the bush, Closer offers more than enough to satisfy.