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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Closer" (2006)

“Closer” tells the story of four people who each get what they want in a relationship, but haven’t a clue as to how to hang onto it. Some relationships get torn down because of infidelity. Some relationships lose steam. Some relationships, oddly enough, crash and burn thanks to a sneaky little bastard known as honesty and some just fail due to lack of interest. Each of the four characters in “Closer” are doomed in some way to one of these downfalls. Nobody can see it coming, of course, but they each have a tendency to lay the groundwork to ensure its occurrence. How does that line go again? I could never belong to a club that would have someone like me for a member.

The movie depicts what happens when Dan (Jude Law) falls for what many would perceive to be the ultimate male fantasy: Alice (Natalie Portman). Dan sees Alice first as a vision of beauty on the streets. She gets hit by a car and he gets to save her and take her to the hospital. It is safe to assume that had she not been attractive, he probably would have kept on walking. She’s younger than him, wears skimpy outfits and works as a stripper. She completely falls for him and he’s got her right where he wants her.

A year goes by and the two now live in New York. Dan sets his eye on a woman closer to his age named Anna (Julia Roberts). She works as a photographer and has been assigned to photograph Dan for the back cover of his latest book, which oddly enough, tells the story of he and Alice. Anna can see right through Dan. She can see that he doesn’t love Alice, so much as he wants to hang onto her like a prize won. Frustrated, Dan tries to shake Alice’s life up by sending her someone completely undesirable in a very funny scene I would prefer not to describe.

Alice gets paid a visit by a doctor named Larry (Clive Owen) and the two end up hitting it off, which does not go according to Dan’s plan to be an obnoxious prankster. Many more months pass by and the four lives become locked together through a series of infidelities, declarations of lust and destructive confessions. Lovers leave, hearts get broken and honeymoons crash and burn. Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

When it comes to sex, “Closer” bravely cuts through any subtext or innuendo and heads straight for the heart of the matter. When these characters talk about sex, they do it bluntly with honesty, something you don’t hear too much of in Hollywood movies and will probably cause some on the audience to snicker. Maybe it’s meant to. Lust can turn people into silly creatures and when an argument goes from two people debating the meaning of an indiscretion to what the act tastes like, I guess it can be pretty funny. After all, why would anyone need to know that?

But men do, the movie implies. Men need to know the details. They need to know how the other man measures up in terms of performance (and size, I suppose). In turn, whenever the men confess an indiscretion, they do so in such a naïve way that they truly believe that to be honest about it is to be automatically forgiven. The women here do not let the men off the hook so easily, but the men also seem to have a Plan B for when all else fails. “It’s not a war,” Alice says at one point. No, it’s not, but it’s definitely a game with more than two players.

The cast handles Patrick Marber’s work (based on his stage play) beautifully and, of course Mike Nichols is the perfect choice to direct it. Portman certainly gives her bravest performance yet. I’m still convinced that she’ll win an Oscar before she’s 30 and here’s more proof. The ubiquitous Jude Law offers a refreshing change from his smugly charming Alfie and ends up being just perfectly smug. Roberts does the best she can, but her character seems underwritten and the least interesting of the four. Clive Owen gives probably his best performance yet as the character caught in the middle of everyone else’s dysfunctions.

“Closer” is not a movie that will have you walking out feeling romantic and good about life. It is meant to be a starting point to some potentially intense discussions with your loved ones. The characters are not likable, but that’s okay. Not every character in a movie has to be. I’m okay with not being forced onto one side of the fence or the other. Human beings are much more complex than that and “Closer” would rather be an “interesting” movie than an “entertaining” one. It just so happens to be both.

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