CLOSER directed by Mike Nichols, written by Patrick Marber from his play, produced by Nichols, Scott Rudin, Cary Brokaw, John Calley and Robert Fox, with Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen. 104 minutes. A Sony Pictures release. For venues and times, see Movie listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Closer, from Patrick Marber's play, is a series of scenes from four lives across four years. It has the jagged rhythm of life lived through a series of crisis points and emotional power plays. It's the sort of drama that's sometimes called "searing" because it deals in emotional truths.
It's also loaded with moments that I feel are unrealistic. I'm the type who's disinclined to believe a male character who says, "I can't lie to you - I love you," and then confesses an infidelity that his partner knew nothing about and didn't even suspect.
The script-crossed lovers played by Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen meet cute, fight ugly and break up hard. There's no moral payoff for any of the characters, who do not behave well under pressure, or, come to think of it, when they're not under pressure.
It's to the enormous credit of the actors that almost nothing in their performances makes them likeable. Charm is usually demanded by studios that think disagreeable characters kill a film's chances. The thing is, dogs are likeable, but there aren't many great dramas about dogs. Roberts and Law are actually at their best when they're playing against their attractiveness: just look at their performances in My Best Friend's Wedding and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Some will call Closer a big statement about relationships between men and women, but I disagree. I don't think writers sit down to make big statements; they get interested in characters.
Roberts's photographer, Law's insecure novelist, Portman's displaced stripper, Owen's devious dentist are all individuals, and their relationships are all specific to their situations.
Change any feature - make Law a successful novelist, for example - and the dynamic of his character shifts, and with it every one of his relationships.
These people, in all their prickly glory, and their embodiment by this cast, are why you want to see Closer.