Mike Nichols has directed some classics (Catch 22, The Graduate, Working Girl) and some turkeys (Wolf, Regarding Henry). With Closer he returns to a chamber piece similar to his first feature, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, which also dealt with couples trapped in dysfunctional relationships.
A bespectacled Dan (Jude Law) is walking down a London street when he sees a gorgeous redhead, Alice (Portman). As he watches her, clearly besotted, she steps into the street and is knocked down by a cab. Coming round, she looks at him and says ‘hello, stranger’. Dan takes her to hospital and then bunks off work to spend the day showing her round London. A year later, Dan has written his first novel, bought some contact lenses, and is having his picture taken for the book jacket by Anna (Roberts). Though Dan lives with Alice, he is smitten with Anna, despite the fact that she is wearing a hideous pair of brown combats that look oddly like chaps. They kiss, but Anna doesn’t want to get involved, despite Dan’s pleading.
Larry (Owen) is in a sex chat room, where he meets ‘Anna’, a sex-crazed nympho, and arranges to meet her in real life. Of course its Dan playing a joke, but the real Anna is at the London Aquarium, and she and Larry strike up a conversation. Four months later Dan and Alice attend the opening of Anna’s exhibition, which includes a portrait of Alice. Dan is still in love with Anna, and begs her to see him, though she is now seeing Larry. They begin an affair.
I’m bored writing this summary – and I’m only half way! – and I was even more bored watching this pretentious piece. Closer is based on a stage play, and I can imagine that it might work better in that format, though it would still be shallow, seedy and hateful – though it thinks its powerful, shocking and uncompromising, of course. It tries so hard to be deep and meaningful, with characters always begging each other to be honest, and talking about the nature of truth, but all the characters are so selfish and, well, mean, that its hard to care. And if these are typical modern relationships, sheesh – no wonder there are so any single people.
The film is being talked up for the awards season and I can see why the performances would be considered daring, by Hollywood standards. The four leads – especially Roberts – are breaking out of their usual screen personas to play essentially unlikeable, cold characters who talk about ‘fucking’ – whoa, steady on! In what weird world is this daring? People talk about fucking all the time! This might have passed for shocking in the 1960s but is par for the course on Sky or even Channel 5. And the characters are so unlikeable that we’re left with no-one to root for: Anna has no personality at all; Larry is a thug who visits whores, strip joints and anonymous sex chat rooms; Dan a sulky child when he doesn’t get his own way, a classic dog in the manger; Alice is little better than a prostitute.
Its also pretty stupidly unbelievable. Why does Anna chat to Larry when he sleazes up to her at the Aquarium? Apart from anything else, Coventry’s most famous son’s dreadful, bored photocopier salesman’s voice would be enough to send you screaming from the room. Jude Law pouts and preens and channels his better performance as Bosie from Wilde. The women fare slightly better, but you wonder why either of them would be with these two weirdos.
For all its efforts to be refreshingly candid, Closer just comes across as tiresomely puerile and cynical.
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