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
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
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