Closer

Closer is like a French New Wave film only with English and American actors going on about sex. Even when they’re not talking about sex, they’re talking about sex.

Did I ever mention that I detest the French New Wave?

In Closer we have four finely tuned portraits of modern sophisticates. They are clever, especially verbally, and ultimately cold. This universal self-absorbtion is what turns you off in the end. And it’s not like the characters are completely disagreeable either. They are all amalgams of good and bad traits. You may hate Don’s (Jude Law) duplicity with women, but he is charming and good company. You hate Larry’s (Clive Owen) obsession with sex, but you have to admire his directness and uninhibited self-knowledge about what he wants.

This is an actor’s film. It has four complicated and conflicted characters. And they are portrayed exquisitely. Jude Law hunches and chain smokes like he was in a French New Wave film. He’s a charmer, honestly torn between two women. Clive Owen plays an earthy doctor with crude tastes and a devious cunning when it comes to sexual politics. Julia Roberts plays Anna, a depressed photographer with zero self esteem. And Natalie Portman plays Alice, seemingly simple but in reality, the most mysterious character in the film. They are all guided by the artful direction of Mike Nichols.

The film, based on the play by Patrick Marber, who adapted the screenplay, is a series of two person scenes, which go back and forth through time. The characters exchange partners at dizzying speeds. But like in a Greek play, the events that move the plot along happen offstage, and are discussed afterward in the scenes. The theatricality of the source material shows through not only in that odd structure but in the literate dialog. It’s lovely to listen to, but nobody talks like that.

The main problem is that there’s no story here. It’s just a series of events that don’t really build to anything. The characters meet, hook up, break up, take up with the other partner and then start over. And I suppose that’s the theme: the futility of intimacy. It’s a legitimate message and maybe even realistic, but it’s also very dreary.

I warn you, this is undoubtedly my own tastes coming through. The coldness at the heart of this film turns me off. If you liked the original Breathless, Pickpocket or My Life to Live, or any of those films, you should probably give Closer a look.

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