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CLOSER

SYNOPSIS:
Obituary writer Dan (Jude Law) meets stripper Alice (Natalie Portman) by accident - literally - when she's knocked down by a cab in front of him, soon after arriving in London from New York. He takes her to the hospital, and they fall for each other. Dan meets dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen) in a sex chat room on the internet, while Dan is posing as a sexually aggressive female. He plays a practical joke on Larry which ends up with Larry meeting photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) at her favourite spot: the aquarium. Anna's exhibition of photos brings them all together under one roof, where the two men are attracted to the other's woman. As time goes by, the relationships criss-cross as the four characters love, lie, betray and abuse each other.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The ambiguity inherent in the title (is it 'come closer', or some sort of 'closing'?) does the film no disservice, a savagely witty, barbed wire of a screenplay taken from Patrick Marber's highly successful stage play. This isn't a film in which the plot is driven by action, unless you call relationship-bending action. Which it most certainly is, but in a different sense. Mike Nichols, who burst onto the screen in 1966 with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor), is back to those dramatic roots, insofaras the characters flay each other through a hailstorm of love and much pain.

Marber's play, like Edward Albee's WAVW, is centred on two couples, and like Albee, Marber shows no mercy as he disembowels all four characters with his pen. He puts the emotional organs on show to see how they tick - and by golly, we can hear them ticking pretty loudly.

The games are played on two levels: one we see, the other we sense. But there is nothing unfamiliar in the machinations of any of these characters, even though perhaps the exact behaviour of any one of them may appear to be unlike our own. They exactitude of their behaviour is their unique identifier: but the emotions and lies and flaws are easily and visibly common to most of us. Or should I hastily say, recognisable, even if we don't actually allow ourselves to be ruled by those lies and flaws.

Each of the central characters is superbly portrayed, with Natalie Portman perhaps the most dramatic in her first seriously dark role. She grabs the multi-layered, intangible nature of her Alice (a name from a certain fantasy, you'll note, which conjures up a slide show of imagery that this film plays with) with nuance and power.

Clive Owen stretches beyond his already well honed abilities to create Larry, a complex, driven sort of guy with as many strengths as weaknesses. But that's true of all of them; and that's why audiences find the characters difficult to dislike, despite some of their actions.

Written with confidence and adapted for the screen with brio, Closer is a close up of people who are shaped by today's (Western) social environment. The taboos, the rituals and the expectations that rule our emotional lives are the currency of this work, sometimes sardonically funny, sometimes droll and sometimes vulgarly appropriate. But never dull.

Review by Louise Keller:
A story about the intimacies of love, Closer is an intelligent and often provocative look at relationships, and the impact of truths and lies. Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen fill the shoes of the four characters whose lives are irrevocably intertwined, and who experience a myriad of emotions as part of their encounter. They are powerful performances and director Mike Nichols brings Patrick Marber's successful play to the screen with great insight.

There is nothing simple about love - how can anything be simple if you cannot even define it? Closer puts the magnifying glass on that intangible bubble that envelops us when a magic spell is cast between two people. A man and woman meet, are attracted to each other, begin a relationship.... It is what happens next that is the complicated part. Like Nichols' earlier works Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Carnal Knowledge, the interplay in the relationships of Closer, is charged; it's an electric current. With its themes of honesty, deception, kindness and cowardice, each scene is coloured by its own emotional hue. We are never let off the emotional hook - there is something happening every single second.

Closer brings back the art of conversation. 'Lying's the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off,' says Natalie Portman's stripper Alice to Clive Owen's dermatologist Larry, while Jude Law's obit-writer Dan provokes Alice to 'Try lying - it's the currency of the world.' Julia Roberts' Anna takes a bath to wash off her guilt, but the guilt sticks, and by the time Larry and Dan both use intimacies as weapons, it is clear that love, honesty and forgiveness are not necessarily compatible.

Closer is a startling and fascinating film that is both revealing and challenging. It toys with the enormity of love and commitment and dips into the abyss of despair when power play goes awry and hearts are broken. Set in London, the anonymity of a big city plays its own part; days, weeks, months and years pass, yet the emotions at the core steadily escalate in their intensity. Love is a double-edged sword: it can destroy or inspire. As barriers and shields are stripped away and Dan symbolically puts on his glasses at the end of the film, we can all see more clearly.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

CLOSER (M)
(US)

CAST: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen

PRODUCER: Cary Brokaw, John Calley, Robert Fox, Mike Nichols, Scott Rudin

DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols

SCRIPT: Patrick Marber (from his own play)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen Goldblatt

EDITOR: John Bloom, Antonia Van Dermellan

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tim Hatley

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2005







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