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Closer
2004 - R - 98 Mins.
Director: Mike Nichols
Producer: Cary Brokaw, John Calley, Robert Fox, Mike Nichols and Scott Rudin
Written By: Patrick Marber
Starring: Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen
Review by: Bill King
Official Site: sonypictures.com/movies/closer/
   
All's fair in love and war, or so the saying goes, but for the main characters of "Closer," the war lasts for four years, and their notions of "fair" are repeatedly tested. Even when deep in a serious relationship, Dan, Alice, Anna and Larry venture out to test the waters. First they get involved with one another when they're clearly not ready for commitment. Then instead of the simple dinner-and-movie getting-to-know-you kind of date, they move in with each other, or in one case get married, but are still not finished shopping around for the possibilities. In the process, the resulting infidelities prove to be more devastating.

Dan (Jude Law) and Alice (Natalie Portman) become romantically entangled after he takes her to the hospital following a car accident. He doesn't know her, but he's drawn to her because they share a trait: They're excellent conversationalists. After a few months, they're living together. He writes obituaries for a London newspaper. She's a stripper. Dan recently finished a novel based on Alice's life, and Anna (Julia Roberts) photographs him for the jacket cover. Dan loves Alice, but he doesn't know the meaning of devotion. He wants to see Anna more, but not just for pictures. She resists, but there's a spark between them that won't extinguish just yet.

As a joke, Dan pretends to be Anna when in a cybersex chat room with Larry (Clive Owen). He tricks him into meeting "Anna" at an aquarium, but as it turns out, the real Anna is there. Larry approaches her as if still speaking online, but realizes quickly that she doesn't know him, and she realizes that Dan set him up. Still, Anna and Larry get to know each other and start to date. Fast forward to Anna's exhibition, where many of her photographs are on display. She and Larry are married, but she's still friends with Dan. Alice is there too, and she becomes acquainted with Larry. This evening sparks a series of unfaithfulness in which Dan cheats on Alice with Anna, Anna accepts him, Larry kicks her out, Larry goes to see Alice, Alice takes Dan back, etc. It's a good thing all this takes place over four years, because this much disloyalty would be contrived if confined to a short timeline.

Cheating isn't just a form of experimentation; it's a way to alleviate boredom. These people engage in puerile games of mental abuse simply because they are reprehensible. Even stranger is the way they handle the truth. After one year of seeing Anna, Dan finally confesses to Alice. He doesn't do this out of guilt, but to get rid of Alice so that he can quit coming back to her every night. Now he can go to Anna without stopping at home to make up an excuse. When Larry demands that Anna be truthful about her unfaithfulness, he's not satisfied with hearing her confirm his suspicions. He wants to know the juicy details, like where she and Dan slept and how many times she came. He forces the truth from her because he knows it's painful for her to say it. Just prior to their argument, he confessed that he slept with a hooker in New York during a trip. He was sincerely guilt-ridden, but if she's guilty of the same thing, he punishes her by making her confess, so that he can hurt her without swinging his fists.

Alice is really the only one who doesn't cheat. When she and Larry meet up at her place of employment (one that uses a stage and a pole as its attractions), she is available. However, she isn't above toying with someone's mind. He wants to get to know her, but she remains elusive, despite the money he's slipping into her socks during a private strip tease. As with Anna, Larry tries to force the truth out of Alice, in this case her real name (she's using her stage name Jane). The two have rarely crossed paths, and he's never heard her referred to as Alice. Forcing the truth out of someone is something both men are good at. Larry practices it, and Dan later applies it when he wins back Alice, and tries to get her to admit what really happened between herself and Larry.

Patrick Marber wrote the script, based on his play. As such, there is little in the way of action, but an abundance of dialogue. This is a movie in which words are a weapon, and whoever can articulate his point better emerges as the victor. This method of pitting the men and women against each other results in many lengthy arguments and discussions over sex and emotions, and what everyone expects out of a relationship. They captivate one another with their words of wisdom, but also offend because of their frankness.

"Closer" is a serious adult drama with biting moments of humorous wit. Director Mike Nichols treats the material with the same sensibility that Todd Solondz brought to "Happiness." He sees his characters actions as being destructive, yet he adds a droll sense of humor to highlight their absurdity. For Dan, Alice, Anna and Larry, being destructive is just one logical step on the way towards attaining fulfillment.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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