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    Four play

    The talented quartet on the marquee saves "Closer," a sexually charged but misbegotten take on romance, love and misbehavior in the Internet age.


    Roberts. Law. Portman. Owen.

    Directed by: Mike Nichols.
    Written by: Patrick Marber.
    Adapted from a play by: Patrick Marber.
    Cast: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Nick Hobbs, Colin Stinton.
    Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt.
    Edited by: John Bloom, Antonia Van Drimmelen.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    It's a formidable foursome and with veteran director Mike Nichols ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") at the reins, the four-play in "Closer" is unquestionably dramatic. But the film is not the tour-de-force it might have been for reasons here explained.

    First up, the source material. "Closer" is based on the play by Patrick Marber with Marber himself penning the wordy screenplay. While the playwright emulates and imitates the likes of Edward Albee (the "'Woolf" man) his is a significantly lesser work. On stage, perhaps, the tightness and close-knit intimacy no doubt supported Marber's economic language, his staccato exchanges, yet on film the snappiness seems arch, contrived, three-word sentences that merely serve to remind us that nobody much talks that way.

    Natalie Portman in Closer. in Closer  
    Natalie Portman in "Closer."
    Secondly, the direction. The film takes liberties with time, unnecessarily shifting chronologies on demand, complicating things almost for the sake of complication. Nichols also lapses into utter torment from time to time. There's a scene in which Law and Owen's characters "meet," converse, in that favorite of the derisive drama the Internet sex chat room that's interminable in its small-mindedness. Third parties can rarely relate to the real-time connections of cyber smuts and that's certainly true here.

    So with a less-than-stellar script (or at least one that grates as often as it rounds the bases) and several odd directorial decisions, our quartet of thespians have their work cut out for them. Fortunately we're talking Julia, Jude, Natalie, and Clive here.

    As "Closer" opens (to the strains of Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter"), Dan (Jude Law) and Alice (Natalie Portman) are bobbing in slow-mo towards each other on a crowded London street. He's a writer — obituaries — and she's a stripper — American — with hair as red as Virginia clay. They meet; they fall instantly in love. Next up Anna (Julia Roberts) is snapping Dan for a book cover (he's taken a stab at a novel with a weak title). Dan falls hard for Anna even though she's in love with Larry (Clive Owen), a dermatologist. When Larry gets wind of this (for he does) he conspires to sleep with Alice in punitive retaliation.

      Clive Owen in Closer. in Closer
      Clive Owen in "Closer."
    What follows is a ruthless roundelay of sad, sorry people cheating on each other because they (mostly) can, hurting each other because it feels (momentarily) good, speaking in short, stagy, stifled sentences that signify strength of mind and weakness of body — nasty, mean, unlikeable sorts unafraid to brutalize or defame each significant other via graphic sexual language.

    Roberts is a national treasure. Her work here is effortless — thoughtful and pure. She's the veteran, oddly enough, the glue that holds this four-character set together. It's not her very best work but she makes it look easy. The hardworking Law impresses once again, displaying a softer side to his character. With six films in the can in as many months people are clearly taking notice. Portman, as she was in "Garden State," is a delight, bringing an inner maturity to the flighty Alice. And Owen does well with a truly despicable character (having played Dan on stage).

    So it's a mixed bag, "Closer" is. Strong, resilient performances weakened by verbiage and construct. Nichols' "Woolf" made tighter use of the four-character drama in which like bile also spewed. If only his latest turn had been closer still.

    DECEMBER 23, 2004

    Reader comments on Closer:

  • closer review   from nash and cind, Jan 28, 2005
  • Re: closer review   from Red Phoenix, Mar 10, 2005
  • the film   from Dolly, Feb 7, 2005
  • Re: the film   from Jono, Feb 10, 2005
  • [no subject]   from RedPhoenix, Mar 10, 2005
  • Re: [no subject]   from Mary, Apr 1, 2005
  • April 05 Review   from rysa4, Apr 14, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Preston, Sep 19, 2006
  • This is a message for RedPhoenix   from Preston, Sep 19, 2006

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