Closer (2004) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for graphic sexual dialogue, nudity, sexuality, and language
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Patrick Marber (based on his play)
Review published December 7, 2004

Some dramas which revolve around relationships, especially with people who speak from raw emotion, make me feel like a voyeur, peeking in on private conversations and intimate moments I wouldn't ever see otherwise.  Then there are other dramas that feel like a collection of actors acting, delivering lines as they should, as we admire how well a certain actor does during one scene, or how well certain actors interact with one another.  In other words, sometimes a film feels like we're watching real people, and others like we're watching celebrities trying to act like real people.  Closer, the latest film by Mike Nichols (Primary Colors, Wolf), feels very much like the second kind of movie.

Jude Law (Alfie, Sky Captain) plays Dan, an obituary writer who through happenstance (maybe) meets a young stripper named Alice (Portman, Attack of the Clones).  The two soon become an item, although Dan never really takes the relationship as lasting, and Alice can see that she is set to be dropped at some point, regardless of Dan's assurances of love.  Well, that point soon comes in the form of Anna (Roberts, Mona Lisa Smile), a photographer hired to take photos for Dan's book based on the life of Alice. There is a chemistry between the two, but through a prank, Anna is introduced to a dermatologist named Larry (Owen, Croupier), and soon the two hit if off.  Yet, the connection between Dan and Anna persists, causing the trust and honesty in their relationships to be strained, and despite all four people searching for happiness, misery seems to be all they find.

Here's a case where everyone does a fine job, and yet, they all seem to do so independently of one another.  Four people, all professing feelings of love, and not for an instant do I ever feel that any of these actors are really in love.  I don't feel it between Law and Roberts, Law and Portman, Owen and Roberts, or Owen and Portman.  Not one of the couplings feels like the stuff of deeper love, and with all of these fine, proven thespians giving it their all, there's just nothing to blame here but vacant chemistry.  Sadness, happiness, love, betrayal, understanding, mistrust -- open, bleak, and heart-wrenching stuff -- only, it just doesn't feel like it.  It seems like it, but while we can recognize the sadness in the material, the translation from thought to feeling lacks a vital connection that ultimately makes Nichols film stagnant most of the way.

Closer is adapted by Patrick Marber from his own play, and perhaps within the limited confines of the stage, and with actors that have a more natural chemistry, this might have worked to a better effect.  There are many key insights and some engaging, spicy dialogue and situations that do keep the interest.  All that is needed is a modicum of conviction and believability.

So, Nichols has crafted a film that one appreciates for the effort of everyone involved, yet an aloofness and a high degree of disconnect keeps it from ever being as engaging as it should.  Fans of the actors will enjoy this more than most, especially those who have been dying to see Portman given a racy adult role (reportedly, some filmed nude scenes were cut by her request).   However, those who aren't likely to be enamored of the weight of the star power will see that Closer is a frank and honest film that lacks that necessary depth of feeling and air of authenticity that is absolutely crucial to bring it to life.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo