Closer warrants a closer look

Dec. 10, 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 a mind numb for a good two hours and $7.50, but what good comes of that? A lighter wallet and a lower brain cell count. Not particularly inviting.

The true beauty of a simple movie is that a simple movie is rarely ever as simple as a review can boil it down to be. Mike Nichols' (The Graduate, Catch-22, Angels in America) Closer is an excellent example of a movie that, through simplicity, is both beautiful and complex.

The snapshot-like scenes that comprise the movie focus on 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 no witty comment is currently available) and Anna (a surprisingly somber Julia Roberts). Each actor is slightly/completely out of his or her usual element: Roberts' Anna 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).Owen does a similarly fantastic job.

The intertwining love stories of these four people are told in large, dialogue-heavy snapshots separated by fades to white which encompass entire years. Dan and Alice are introduced first: Alice is hit by a taxi as she crosses the street staring lovingly at Dan, and Dan escorts her 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 drive to the hospital and then 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 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 also wrote the original play), Dan and Anna kiss, creating the movie's first betrayal.

Larry is dragged into the movie by the unwitting Dan who, posing as a leggy blond named "Anna" in an online sex chatroom, lures the lonely doctor 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 hilariously awkward conversation ensues, and the table is fully set.

The driving force of the movie is character interaction, which Nichols accents by never staying in the same place for too long. The fade-outs, while at first slightly disorienting, are quickly adjusted to and add to the 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 only two other actors given credit for parts in the movie. Strangers drift in and out of scenes but are intrinsically detached, which leads to further scrutiny of the Fab Four. The dialogue is fast-paced, polished, and completely natural, evoking a true emotional rawness from the four characters that seems almost out of place because the endless retorts and counter-retorts are so perfect. However, the nagging "Nobody talks that cleverly" reflex is completely overridden by the brutally honest nature of what the characters are saying, which ultimately keeps the movie afloat.

But for all of its elegant excellence, Closer struggles a bit with its ending. Nichols can't be faulted for taking it the direction he did; indeed the characters play right into the situation that he crafts. Unfortunately, that direction is something of a misdirectional cliché, 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 and the dialogue is snappy, but the ideas the film contains cannot be described by either of those adjectives. And that is precisely makes it so utterly, savagely beautiful.

Closer (98 minutes) is rated R for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language and 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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