Closer (8/10)

by Tony Medley

This stars two of my least favorite actors, Julia Roberts (Anna) and Jude Law (Dan). It seems as if Law has been in every movie Iíve seen recently and he hasnít gotten any better. Then thereís Clive Owen (Larry) who played in one of this yearís worst movies, Iíll Sleep When Iím Dead (but I did like him in King Arthur), leaving only one person in the cast to whom I did not have a kind of negative preconception, Natalie Portman (Alice). Exacerbating the presence of Roberts, Law, and Owen, everyone smokes. The Centers for Disease Control recently issued a new comprehensive report on smoking and health, revealing for the first time that smoking causes diseases in nearly every organ of the body. Published 40 years after the surgeon generalís first report on smoking - which concluded that smoking was a definite cause of three serious diseases - this newest report finds that cigarette smoking is conclusively linked to diseases such as leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia and cancers of the cervix, kidney, pancreas and stomach. In light of these facts, a director has to be obscenely irresponsible to show famous actors addicted to smoking without showing the deleterious side effects. Of course itís possible that Nichols shows them smoking just to give them a visible bad character trait, as they are all unadmirable. But it never shows them choking or coughing or having any bad effect, so I doubt that the smoking was some subtle plot device to emphasize that these are not nice people.

On the plus side are the 98 minute running time, the no-titles start, and the director, Mike Nichols, despite the fact that only a blockhead would glorify smoking, who keeps up a nonstop pace in spite of a talky script.

Shuffle the cards and throw in a script by Patrick Marber, based on his play, and what do you get? Surprise, thatís what I got. This is a profane story of four scurrilous people. When you consider that Alice, a stripper, is the only person in the film with a modicum of a redeeming character, you get a flavor that thereís nobody for whom you are rooting. What youíre doing, really, is sitting there with your mouth agape at what the characters are saying and how theyíre treating each other. Even though they are not my favorites, I must admit that all four actors are very good, even Roberts.

This is brilliantly directed by Nichols as scene changes sometimes encompass the passage of a year with no warning or segue. Another good thing is that the scenes play themselves out with no background music. Itís no surprise that this comes from Nichols because itís reminiscent of his debut, Whoís Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), also the story of four people leading confused, alienated lives.

Dan meets Alice on the street and they hit it off. Then he meets Anna and they hit it off. Then Anna meets Larry and they hit it off. They lie to each other and betray each other and hurt each other. They speak frankly about sex. The ďfĒ word is used frequently, not as a swear word, rather as a word descriptive of action. Adding to the use of the ďfĒ word, the actors speak of sexual acts they perform on one another in graphically explicit terms.

This is the kind of movie that wonít let you leave for a break because you might miss an essential piece of dialogue. Magnificent acting; quirky, unusual script; exceptional directing; I liked it; lots of people wonít.

December 1, 2004

The End