Closer warrants a closer look

Dec. 7, 2004, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 16 years, 1 month ago

There's something inherently beautiful about simplicity. Sure, watching car crash upon random explosion upon shoot-out can keep your mind numbed for a good two hours and $7.50, but where does that leave you? Lighter in both the brain cell and wallet departments. Not zesty.

But the true beauty of a simple movie, other than the retention of both cash and hard-fought mental prowess, is that simple movies are rarely ever as simple as a review can boil them down to be. In Mike Nichols' (The Graduate, Catch-22, Angels in America) simply (and thus aptly) titled Closer, we have an excellent example of a movie that, through simplicity, is utterly beautiful and complex.

The plot, insofar as this is a movie in the sense of things like "plot" and "scenes," centers around four characters living in London: Dan, a scraggly and bespectacled Jude Law; Alice, the ever-lovely Natalie Portman; Larry, Clive Owen, the only major actor/actress for whom I have no witty comment; and Anna, a surprisingly somber Julia Roberts. Each actor is slightly/completely out of their usual element: Roberts' Anna is serious through most of the movie and cries more often than she smiles. Law's Dan is a similarly a far cry from the Alfies and Sky Captains of the world, while Portman's Alice is just slightly crazier than her recent role in Garden State, but better. And Owen does a fantastic job, though I haven't seen him in, er, anything.

The story of these four peoples' intertwining love stories is told in large, dialogue-heavy chunks that are separated by fades to white that encompass entire years. Dan and Alice come first, Alice as the victim of not paying attention and being hit by a taxi, Dan as her escort to the hospital. In a movie driven by incredible chemistry, Law and Portman have it early and often, creating an engaging and memorable discourse as they bus to Dan's obituary-writing job. Fade to several years in the future, where Dan is being photographed for the book jacket of a book he has written about – surprise! – Alice, and her past as a stripper. The photographer is none other than Anna. After more witticisms (writing credit is given to Patrick Marbler, who adapted the screenplay from the play he had written), Dan and Anna kiss, creating the movie's first, but far from last, betrayal. Larry is dragged into this core by the unwitting Dan who, posing as a leggy blond named "Anna" (wonder where he came up with that one) in an online sex chat room, lures lonely doctor Larry to the London Aquarium the next day for a rendezvous. Of course, Anna just so happens to be there, being a frequenter of places where she can photograph strangers. A hilarious conversation ensues, and the table is fully set.

While the driving force of the movie is character interaction, Nichols hedges his bets by never staying in the same place for too long. The fade-outs, while at first slightly disorienting, add to the paradoxical frantic-yet-sluggish pace of the film. Nichols also makes the genius move of cutting the characters off from the rest of the world entirely; there are two, count 'em, two, other actors given credit for parts in the movie. Strangers drift in and out of scenes but are intrinsically detached, which leads the audience to turn an even larger microscope on the Fab Four. Luckily, the dialogue between them is fast-paced, polished and completely natural, evoking a true emotional rawness from the four characters that seems rather out of place as they deliver perfect retort after perfect counter-retort. This is what keeps the movie afloat: the balance of these apparent contradictions between life and the movies, and, if you want to get all philosophical (the movie encourages it), between truth and love.

For all of its elegant excellence, however, Closer struggles a bit with the last paragraph. One can't fault Nichols (or Marbler, as the case probably is) for taking it the direction he did; indeed the characters play right into the situation that he crafts. Unfortunately, the direction being played into is something of a misdirectional cliché, one with which the movie could have definitely done without. The movie is still rife with meaning to be picked through, but it almost feels like the "This is real, life," ruse is abandoned at the last of possible moments.

Overall, Closer is a finely wrought, masterful look at the dynamics of relationships, truth and love. The concept is simple, the dialogue is snappy, but the ideas contained are most definitely not describable by either of those adjectives. And that's what makes it so utterly, savagely beautiful.

Closer is rated R for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language. It is now playing at area theaters.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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