Sunday 19 April 2015

Movie Review: Closer (2004)

A dramatic four-character study, Closer attempts to delve into relationship and dependency issues but is torpedoed by a histrionic, stagey script.

On a London sidewalk, obituary writer and aspiring novelist Dan (Jude Law) stumbles into recently arrived young American ex-stripper Alice (Natalie Portman). They start a relationship, and Dan writes a book, using Alice as his muse. Dan then meets photographer Anna (Julia Roberts), and they are immediately attracted to each other. Although initially they don't act on their impulses, Dan starts to stalk Anna.

At a bizarre aquarium encounter semi-arranged by Dan through an anonymous sex-chat encounter, dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen) meets Anna, and they become a couple and eventually get married. But Dan and Anna cannot stay away from each other, and they finally start a prolonged affair. But Larry will not easily give up on his marriage, and neither will Alice surrender the only man she ever cared for.

Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Patrick Marber as an adaptation of his play, Closer never finds its cinematic feet. The fundamental problem is that most of the dialogue sounds like it's coming from the imagination of a writer rather than the inspiration of real life. While the intensity of a stage play can sometimes carry a succession of over-burdened, melodramatic shouting matches, raw emotive exchanges and devious mind games obsessed with sexual power plays, when displayed relentlessly on film it all starts to sound oh so fake.

The four characters seem incapable of talking about anything other than sex, passion and their relationships. They exist in a void for the sole purpose of melodramatically interacting among each other, and the sparsity of the surrounding narrative catches up with the film and consumes it. By the end of 104 minutes very little is known about Dan, Alice, Larry and Anna except that they are rather deficient when it comes to controlling their lustful impulses. Certainly, none are too appealing as characters to care about.

Nichols does his best with the material, and at least he is able to open up the play somewhat to make good use of London locales. The film takes place over a few years with some use of flashbacks, and Nichols maintains some interest by not announcing the passage of time, allowing the content to hint at the sequence and time lag between milestones.

Natalie Portman emerges with the best performance, primarily because Alice is the most vulnerable and introverted character, keeping most of her emotions just beneath the surface. Law, Roberts and Owen are never less than watchable, but are hampered by overblown characters with next to no lust control.

Closer aims to explore intimacy, but takes a wrong turn and heads towards a convoluted hormonal overdose.

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