Closer
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Closer

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The most common theme in any form of literature, inclusive of poetry, novels, plays, stage and screen is with no doubt love. While many focus on the up side of this all important human emotion stories like the one presented in Patrick Marberís Closer looks instead at the complexity and betrayal inherent is so many relationships. This story focuses on the interpersonal relationships and bed swapping that infuses the lives of four people in London. Dan (Jude Law) is a failed novelist that continues to write to some extent as an obituary writer. He considers himself quite the ladyís man although he has the perchance of courting women out of his league. As things happen, especially in films, Dan crosses path with Alice (Natalie Portman) when the young woman whose flirting eye contact with Dan causes her to neglect looking before crossing the street and she is struck by a taxi. A relationship soon blossoms and within a short time they are living together. Inspired with love as his muse Dan writes a novel about his relationship with the former stripper Alice and the book published. While promoting his book Dan is to be photographed for the dust jacket by Anna (Julia Roberts). Only in a movie can a man, even one as handsome as Jude Law have Natalie Portman at home and find himself making out with Julia Roberts during their first meeting, but it happens here. When Alice enters the studio to pick up Dan there is an awkward moment between her and Anna. While most stories would be content with a love triangle another side is added here when Anna begins a relationship with a dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen). Larry and Alice become involved and the sexual square dance is in full swing.

There is much that sets this work far above those films that would pretend to be its peer. For one, there is the incredible dialogue. Marber is a true word smith, a man able to pull the audience in with the sheer emotional power of his words. While so many films rely solely on crash profanity this film creates characters that can banter with the best of them. Albeit there is some strong language, especially with the female leads but there is a difference, it is not used for mere shock value but rather to depict head strong women in modern society. I typically enjoy a film faithfully made from a stage play. There is usually simplicity of design and execution and this film achieves this nicely. Each of the characters is presented as a duality, internally conflicted whose insecurities both drive them and impede the resolution of their dilemmas. This is a dance where uncertain steps and changing partners lead to ultimate betrayal and despair. While many would prefer a more upbeat love story we all know that this emotion can and frequently does result is heart break. This film is so multilayered that repeated viewing will offer more insight into this quartet of lovers. While so many films exhaust the viewing before the first screening is over this film has the potential to bring something new each time you watch.

There is a complex web of feelings woven here; flirtation, infatuation, lust and envy all are part of the emotional tapestry of love. The use of subtext is excellent here. When Alice feels most threatened she puts up emotional walls by returning to her former vocation as a stripper. As she removes her clothes she is emotionally more covered than ever. It is the intermixture of visual and verbal clues to the inner workings of the characters is what will hold you to this story. A little warning for the more puerile out there, the extensive nudity featuring Ms Portman was cut by the director shortly before the first presentation of the film.

The cast here is a meeting of established and up coming actors. Julia Roberts has proven time ad time again that she has the innate talent to successfully take on almost any role. Here she is more emotional bare than in any previous character that I can remember. There is a reason why her name on a film will almost automatically increase the box office gross; she conveys her character in an always interesting fashion. Audiences across the pond in England will be more familiar with the body of work held by Clive Owen. Classically trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art Owen embodies the character of Larry. He serves up a man that is somewhat driven by lust but who is ultimately searching for real love. It seems to be a law that every film must have Jude Law in it. The reason for this is simple. He has the looks that will appeal to the female audience and the talent to provide incredible performances. As with any working actor there are greater and lesser roles but here he does commit to the role and gives us something to watch. He portrays makes Dan into a man who attempts to cover his own personal failures with in interest in women. Unfortunately, even his charm and looks are not enough to ensure success in these endeavors. Natalie Portman is a tiny slip of a young woman whose petite frame contains exceptional talent. From her pre-teen premier role in Leon she has demonstrated a command of her craft. With Close she is working towards acceptance in more adult roles. With films like the Star Wars prequels behind her she now shows that she is more than capable of tackling emotionally drive performances. All of these actors faced a real challenge with there roles here. They had to make the audience watch a group of ultimately unsympathetic characters. At the end we donít like any character; they are all selfish and so emotionally crippled that lesser performances would leave us empty. Their collective talent turns this around by pulling us into the story despite the lack of audience identification with the characters.

Mike Nichols is truly one of the great directors of our times. From his initial films like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And The Graduate, he has never failed to bring something interesting to the audience. In some respects Closer is a modern version of his Carnal Knowledge. Nicholas is able to bring a rich and complex mixture of emotions to play here. He is the consummate story teller, instilling bits of humor into an otherwise bleak look at the human condition. His style is to let the actors tell the story, his direction taking the form of guidance rather than overwhelming the film. His use of staging is secondary to the central focus of the actors on the set.

Columbia/UA has chosen to present this film as part of their Superbit line. As such the audio is in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. While the DTS track offered more in the way of natural ambience both do well in presenting a well formed and full sound stage. The video is flawless. The image is crisp and free of any artifacts. While most Superbit tiles are light on extras, if any are provided at all, this offering follows suite by containing only a music video "The Blowerís Daughter" performed by Damien Rice. Some may be turned off by the unlikable characters but this film is an overall winner.

Posted 2/27/05

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