Dir; Mike Nichols, Cert; 15
past twelve months has seen the release of an abundance of sensational
films; from the Bush baiting Fahrenheit 9/11 to the religious
blood fest of The Passion of the Christ all the way over to
the study of sexual identity and morals in Bad Education.
These films are sensational in their own rights, but nothing has quite
shocked me these past several months as much as hearing Julia Roberts
shouting about a rather crass sexual encounter in gynaecological detail
right before being told to die, all with expletives that I shant
utter here. It is not only shocking, but is also refreshingly unconventional
to see such a loathsome lack of guile (unlike the characters its
about) in a picture with four Hollywood leading players with a romance
plot. Closer, a film by Mike Nichols, is a character study
that looks at the betrayal, deceit and obsession in relationships.
The plot is simple through a few weird twists in fate, two young
London men and two young American women zig zag through (purely heterosexual)
relationships between each other, beginning with their first encounters
and then jumping several months ahead to the messy aftermath.
The film stars Jude Law (Dan, a London obituary writer), Natalie Portman
(Alice, a New York stripper who has moved to London in a performance that
will probably bring a wink and a smile to many a sad Star Wars
fan), Julia Roberts (Anna, an American photographer) and Clive Owen (Larry,
a dermatologist). They encounter each other in a strange chain reaction.
Dan locks eyes with Alice while walking down the street before she is
knocked down by a vehicle while crossing the road and he takes her to
the hospital. A few months pass and Dan has written a book about his relationship
with her. The books cover photograph is taken by Anna who Dan falls
for and begins to see more often. A few more passages of time go by and
Dan logs onto the internet and in a chat room he impersonates a girl called
Anna in a realistic sequence thats equally as hilarious as it is
bad taste. Here he sets up a blind date for the next day with Larry on
the other side, but when Larry turns up and finds the real Anna there,
she tells him he has been duped. Ignoring that fact, he immediately desires
her and so begins the intense drama between these four people.
Each one of them is fascinated by love, but never completely fall into
it. When they just need to take one more step to be in love they strafe
to the side with lies, seduction and sadism. They are all eloquent and
seemingly sincere, but behind that very convincing mask is a web of deceit.
In one scene, one man tells the other to Try lying for a change
- it's the currency of the world. Theatrical dialogue such as this
melded with excellent performances drive the film a lot more than the
contrived plot does. The truth to these characters actually causes more
problems because they are compelled to be most truthful about the ways
in which they have been unfaithful to each other. The scene where Anna
explains a sex encounter she had behind her then current boyfriend, Larry
is very truthful, but it brings out a violent and repulsive side to both
of them. The majority of the time, truth is dishonourable and is used
to hurt the other party. Whoever said that beauty is truth will be thoroughly
put to shame in this film.
However, as fascinating and frank as this intricate study of interaction
is, there are some pitfalls. The screenplay, by Patrick Marber, could
very well be a carbon copy of the stage play, also written by Marber,
it is based on (Clive Owen played Dan on the stage, trivia fans) and because
of that it unravels like a play instead of a film. The theatrical dialogue
is used to hammer home the themes and message of the film, relying
more on it than the excellent performances. Apart from two very minor
characters (a taxi driver and an airport customs officer) the only people
who ever speak are the four principle characters. They don't speak in
a natural manner, nor do they speak in a way that regular film viewers
would feel comfortable with. Instead they talk eloquently all the time.
Larry, for example, is a loud mouthed, self-righteous misogynist. It is
very obvious purely by watching the characters actions and Clive
Owens performance, but when the script calls for him to have an
argument, his excuse for sleeping with a prostitute is "I'm a caveman!"
On stage this would work well, where the performances and dialogue are
heightened to reach out to the audience. On a cinema screen it doesn't
quite work. Nichols never takes the camera back to look at the
bigger picture. He has made a merely decent and direct film, rather than
a brilliant cinematic one as there are no cinematic moments, just affected
ones such as the caveman scene. On a more peculiar note, Id
like to add that it would also have been remarkably brave and more multifaceted
if Marber altered his story a little bit to include slight references
to homosexuality because, although it is not hinted at all in the film,
the amount of times the characters change their minds about one another
it is any wonder that they dont just turn out to be gay.
Nichols also uses a rather jarring theatrical device in the form of a
huge jump in time. We are barely informed about it and when the audience
should be unravelling the characters minds they are instead left
trying to piece together the rough narrative. This is where the faithfulness
of the adapted screenplay separates the film from great to good. As per
usual, it wraps itself up all too neatly towards the end, relying on standard
issue sentiment and tacked on happiness, but thats to be expected.
All that aside, its an interesting and scandalous film that presents
some novel ideas. It has superb performances, particularly Portmans
sensitive portrayal of a stripper with feelings. Her role along with Clive
Owens wonderfully iniquitous one should shoot them both to the top
of the next big thing while Nichols, Law and Roberts have yet another
substantial piece of work to add to their prolific CVs. 7/10