Closer (2004)
Directed by Mike Nichols

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Alice (Natalie Portman), a young American woman who has just moved to London, becomes involved romantically with Dan (Jude Law), an obituary writer, when he takes her to a hospital after she steps in front of a taxi. Later, after Dan has written a novel, he meets Anna (Julia Roberts), with whom he is immediately infatuated. Although she subsequently becomes involved with a dermatologist, Larry (Clive Owen), Anna eventually does have an affair with Dan, which leads to numerous complications.

Mike Nichols' Closer is an entertaining, well made, nicely acted, but never particularly affecting film.

The story relates the various affairs, deceptions, and revelations of the protagonists over the course of four years. Rather than depicting the sexual encounters and schemes of these persons, however, the director instead presents the conversations they have when one or another of them is confessing his infidelity to his partner. Because succeeding scenes are thus separated by substantial gaps of time, which may not be immediately apparent, the events of the movie do often jump forward suddenly, but, as the director always makes such leaps clear sometime in each scene, this approach is never confusing. In fact, it actually helps to keep the viewer engaged with and attentive to the story he is being told.

Moreover, although this device does, admittedly, make the film somewhat stagy, as the moviegoer sees very little of the activities of the protagonists, who are generally presented sitting in some room or another talking about the events of their lives, such a quality is mitigated by the often intriguing places or events that are shown. At different times, Nichols depicts Larry and Dan having a sexually explicit on-line conversation while the latter is pretending to be a woman, Dan and Anna waiting in the lavish foyer of an opera house while he reveals to her that he has been unfaithful to her with Alice, whom he had previously left after having cheated on her with Anna, and Larry watching Alice strip for him in a club while she wears a pink wig, a bra, a thong, and little else.

Unfortunately, as interesting as such occurrences are, most of the film's characters are so entirely unlikable that it is doubtful that the viewer will ever be able to engage with them and experience their emotions. Even Alice, who is the only one of the four protagonists who is appealing as an individual throughout much of the film, is revealed, in Closer's final moments, to be as reprehensible as are the others. Any sympathy the viewer may have had for her up to that point is then entirely obliterated.

The characters are, however, fond of admitting their faults, but this habit does not, by any means, redeem them. Not one of these individuals appears to have any problem with deceiving his partner when it suits him, and each reveals his infidelities only at such a time when doing so is bound to hurt the person to whom he is supposedly committed. Consequently, while the protagonists' conversations are intriguing, they systematically alienate the viewer, who is bound to find these persons so repugnant that he has little compassion for their numerous crises.

I should, nonetheless, note that Closer is consistently well acted. All four of the leads acquit themselves well and each gives a vibrant, quirky life to his shallow, hateful character. While these people may rarely be pleasant, they have a veracity that does prevent the viewer from losing interest in them. He may despise them, but he will still enjoy watching them.

Closer is, whatever its flaws, an entertaining film. Regrettably, its characters are so repulsive that the viewer, while amused by them, is unlikely to be moved by their troubles.

Review by Keith Allen

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