On pedigree alone, Closer was pretty much destined for success. Based on an award-winning play, featuring four major film stars, all at the peak of their abilities, as directed by (the late) legendary helmsman Mike Nichols, it’s really no surprise that this movie is as good as it is. Closer is a film full of subtle, smart choices.
Closer follows the lives of four different individuals whose lives all collide over a multiple year period in London. There’s Alice (Natalie Portman, simultaneously incredibly sexy and vulnerable, a performance she would later repeat in Black Swan, albeit with more edge), an American stripper; early on in the film, she meets, and falls in love with, Dan (Jude Law – doing his icy British thing), an up-and-coming writer. Shortly thereafter, he is photographed by Anna (Julia Roberts), and then, after one of the more strangely humorous scenes of online sex chat depicted in film, she meets Larry (Clive Owen), a dickish dermatologist.
(It’s kind of interesting, and worth mentioning, that both men are Brits and both women are Americans – there may be some subtext here though it wasn’t apparent to me.)
As the four engage in a love quadrangle, it’s fascinating to observe what Nichols, and screenwriter (and author of the original play) Patrick Marber do and don’t include on-screen, when they decide to have time jumps and skips and when they slow things down. There’s a different kind of voyeurism here, showing some of the most intimate moments between the couples, the coming togethers and falling aparts rather than the sex scenes that would normally occupy the duration of a film like this. So many films about adult relationships depict sex, and specifically depict it as an artful act (arched backs and gleaming skin); other films try to contrast by showing a more realistic version of sex, with the foibles and funny sounds that are more representative of real life. Here, the sex is only ever talked about. This is no mistake, to be sure.
Closer is a bit messy – there are themes left dangling here, ideas that never quite fully get connected together. But those are mere details – this is a film that knows what it is and successfully shows us something fresh, with an off-kilter energy.