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Closer (2004)

24 November 2004 by Chad No Comment


2004, dir. Mike Nichols
125 min. Rated R.
Starring: Gigolo Joe, Erin Brockovich, Queen Amidala, The guy who might be Bond.

Review by Chad Shonk

I like things that come in twos. Popsicles. Reese’s Cups. Breasts. Battles of Bull Run. Anyway. Couples, pairs, are a natural, organic occurrence. Positive and Negative. Yin and Yang. Bert and Ernie.

My two favorite films so far this year are a pair of romances that came early in the year. Both Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Before Sunset (itself part of a pair) dealt with love and relationships in new and fresh ways. Neither overly cynical, neither overly sentimental, both films stand out to me as great achievements in their genres. They are completely different films, but they will be forever linked in my mind.

(I promise there is a point to this. At least I think there is.)

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Bill Condon’s Kinsey, a wonderful biopic about Alfred Kinsey, the world’s first sex scientist. His work did a lot to inspire the sexual revolution and his assertions that every single person on the planet had completely different sexual desires; therefore no sexual activity was “normal” was both groundbreaking and threatening to the status quo. I loved Kinsey, and it quickly became my favorite film of the second half of the year.

Until last night.

Until I saw Mike Nichols’ Closer.

I was fortunate enough to attend the World Premiere of Closer last night at the Mann Village Theater here in Westwood. Guests in attendance were director Mike Nichols, writer Patrick Marber, legendary producer John Calley, and stars Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, and Mr. Sexiest Man Alive Jude Law. Also there were Edward Zwick, Ewan McGregor, John C. McGinley, and the one and only David Mamet. I’m sure there were others, but I wasn’t exactly sitting with any of them. I was in the cheap seats.

After a brief introduction by Amy Pascal, the chairman of Tri-Star Columbia, Mike Nichols came up and introduced the film, taking time to point out and thank all the actors and crew members in attendance. It was a thrill just being that close to a legend like that. Very humbling.

Anyway, enough of my fanboy shite. About the movie, and why I spent the first few paragraphs talking about pairs.

Well, Closer is a great movie about love and sex and the confusion of the two. About lies and truth and how the destructive power of the latter is much more than the former. Men and Women. Trust and Betrayal. And it’s about really beautiful people fucking each other over in the name of love.

From a screenplay by Patrick Marber, adapted from his play, Closer is the story of four people. Alice (Natalie Portman) is a young stripper visiting abroad in London. Dan (Jude Law) is a failed novelist who makes his living writing obituaries. Anna (Julia Roberts) is a photographer coming off of a divorce. Larry (Clive Owen) is a dermatologist who spends time in internet sex-chat rooms between patients.

Closer unfolds in a series of couplets. A majority of the film consists of scenes with two people; there is one brief scene in which three of the characters interact, but that is all. The rest unfolds in a sequence of conversations. The four characters couple and uncouple on screen, in all possible permutations, and talk. Alice and Dan. Anna and Larry. Alice and Larry. Anna and Dan. Anna and Alice. Dan and Larry. This is the structure of the film. It is not surprising that the film was based on a play, for it very much still unfolds that way. In fact, from one scene to the next, we are not sure how much time has passed. Two characters talk for a certain amount of time. The scene ends. The next scene, another combination of the four characters takes the stage. And it could be a year later. You won’t know until the characters tell you.

Actually, nothing actually happens in Closer. Well, a lot happens, really. But nothing happens on screen. All the notable actions in closer happen between scenes. Off Camera. What the film is concerned with is how people behave after their actions, what they say about them. It may seem like just a lot of talking, and it is, but it is also deadly effective.
While the structure of the film is about coupling and re-coupling, so is the story itself. At first, Anna is with Larry and Alice is with Dan. But that changes. Then changes again. The people in this film change partners like square dancers. (Sorry guys. There is no Julia-Natalie pairing).

It’s really hard to get into the story without giving too much away, if I haven’t already. Just know that you do not know what will happen next. I’m usually two steps ahead of most films, but not Closer. I had no idea where it was going, and, more importantly, I didn’t to know. I was just enjoying the ride.

I’d like to say a few words about the actors in this film, for they are its heart and soul and you will be hearing some of their names come Oscar Time.

Jude Law as Dan. I was least impressed with Jude Law in this film, but that is simply because I have been impressed with him before. Jude is the only actor in the film that does not deliver the absolute best performance of his or her career. That’s not to say it’s not good. It is. He is really fucking great in this movie. But he’s been great before. It’s the same curse of consistency that actors like Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe suffer from. On a personal note, he is really fucking pretty. The camera doesn’t do him justice. Hate to jump on the “Jude is Hot” bandwagon, but facts are facts. The sky is blue, and Jude Law is a handsome man.

Julia Roberts as Anna. America’s Sweetheart will never deliver a better performance than this in her entire life. I liked her in Erin Brockovich,, but I still saw Julia there. In Closer, I just see a woman. A beautiful, tired, kinda cold, kinda sad, woman. From the opening frames of her, I could tell this was not going to be Julia as usual. Something about her posture, her movements. She is without affectation. Without quirk. Without spunk. She simply is, and she is simply wonderful.

Natalie Portman as Alice. This year, young Queen Amidala has entered the realm of the adult actor with force. She has always been a good actor, but I felt she had stagnated in the last few years. It had been a while since she impressed me. But she rocked my socks off in Garden State, and, while the film had some problems, I thought she made it a compelling watch. In Closer, she reaches levels I didn’t know she was capable of. Her Alice is really the innocent of the piece and when her heart breaks, our heart breaks. I was at first skeptical of her playing a stripper, didn’t know if she had it in her, but she does. I now think she’s capable of anything. Also, shock of all shocks, very pretty in person.

Clive Owen as Larry. Closer is Clive Owen’s movie. It will be his character that you’re quoting after you see it. It is his moments that you will be applauding. Larry is the character that will remind you most of early Neil LaBute, an emotional Machiavelli that will have you whispering “Damn, that’s cold” on more than one occasion. But in an odd way, Larry is also the hero of the piece. Unlike Chad in In the Company of Men, we know why Larry is doing the things he does. We understand. And deep down, we approve. His emotional power-plays can be brutal, but what surprises us is not why he does them, but more “wow. I didn’t think he was capable of that.” And Clive Owen delivers Larry to us with a weight that knocked me back in my seat. Portman is a sure-fire Oscar nomination for her work here. Owen is almost a lock for the statue.

The other star in Closer is Patrick Marber’s dialogue. Since the film is chiefly just people talking, the words have to be good. And they are. Very very good. Depressingly soul-crushingly dream-destroyingly good. I-should-just-shoot-myself-in-the-head-for-ever- thinking-I-could-make-a-living-by-writing good. Stylized, funny, and observant, Marber’s characters don’t talk like real people, but they speak like real people should. The dialogue is also dirty. Filthy. Things will come out of Julia and Natalie’s mouth that will make you blush. But it never seems gratuitous. Never seems there to shock. Like Mamet, Marber knows the power of these words and weaves them into his poetry with ease.
Mix this all up under the masterful direction of Mike Nichols (whose Angels in America won a gazillion Emmys earlier this year) and you have a great film.

I know what you’re saying. “What the fuck does this have to do with Kinsey, you fucking retard?”

I couldn’t help but think of Kinsey while watching this film. While I admire the work Kinsey did to remove the stigma from sex, I would be blind to deny that there were some unfortunate consequences to his work. The characters in Closer felt to me to be those consequences. Living and breathing examples of why sex is not just a clinical, biological thing. Of why things like loyalty and fidelity are not just constructs of the religious right. I don’t know. It may be a stretch. But, for me, Closer is the perfect companion for Kinsey. And that is what we call full circle. Or unbelievable pretentious. Either one. I can’t tell. It’s late.

I know this hasn’t exactly been a funny review, but it’s hard to make it funny when a film affects you as much as this one did to me. If you want funny, mail me a check for ten bucks and I’ll go see Christmas with the Cranks and rip it a new corn-chute. Or mail me a dime-bag and I’ll go see the SpongeBob movie. I don’t guarantee that review will make much sense, but it will be funny as shit.

I’m going to see Alexander tomorrow, Finding Neverland, on Thursday, and maybe Sideways on Friday. There is a very good chance that one of those will suck (I’m looking at you, Colin. Yeah, you, you mick bastard), so maybe I can write something funny then. Until then, you’re stuck with this.


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