Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Mike Nichols

Stars: Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman.

In some of his best films, Oscar winning director Mike Nichols has often been drawn to explorations of sex and disintegrating relationships (Carnal Knowledge, The Graduate, etc). His films often feature crackling dialogue, biting humour, barbed exchanges, rich performances, and an arch sensibility that sometimes makes for uncomfortable viewing. In some ways, his faithful adaptation of Patrick Marber’s acclaimed drama Closer harks back to vintage Nichols.

Spanning four years in the lives of four strangers who all become romantically involved, Closer charts the tempestuous nature of their various relationships. Dan (Jude Law) is a frustrated novelist who writes obituaries for a London newspaper. Alice (Natalie Portman) is the sexy beautiful stranger he meets in the street when she is knocked down by a taxi, and he takes her to hospital for treatment. Thus begins their affair, which he uses as source material for his novel. Anna (Julia Roberts) is a photographer who has an affair with Dan after taking his portrait and he leaves Alice for her. Larry (Clive Owen) is a dermatologist who meets Anna after Dan plays a cyber joke on him in an internet chat room, and the pair marry.

Their tenuous relationships are briefly held together by sex and common interests, but they are also just as suddenly torn apart by tempestuous emotions, suspicion and uncertainty. These four dislikable characters turn love into a battlefield as they lie, cheat, and say and do nasty things to each other. However, this drama mainly looks at the various relationships at the point where they are disintegrating amid rancour and disillusionment. The film’s complex structure demands that the audience do some of the work in putting together the pieces of the various entanglements and filling in the gaps.

Essentially a four hander, Closer features four of the finest performances that its impressive cast have yet delivered on film, and they may reap the rewards in the upcoming frenzied Awards season. The very busy Law finds emotional depths and passion here that has been lacking from his recent roles; ironically his recent turn in the Alfie remake would have benefited enormously from a performance this soulful and introspective. Portman’s performance as the enigmatic, sexy Alice, who has come to London to work as a stripper, is a stunner, and forever moves her away from the innocence of her Star Wars role. Roberts brings a palpable iciness to her role, while. Owen suffuses his character with a vulnerability and biting.

Superbly written and directed, Closer is certainly well-acted by its small cast, yet somehow seems theatrical in its staging as Nichols seems reluctant to open out the material too much from its stage origins. This effectively gives it an uncomfortably claustrophobic feel, but it also seems somehow emotionally cold and alienating. Closer is very frank in its discussion of matters of sex and relationships, and will certainly not be comfortable viewing for everyone.




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