Thursday, January 26, 2006


I sat down to watch Closer, a 2004 film directed by Mike Nichols and starring four of the hottest actors/actresses around, thinking that I would only watch a few minutes on the DVR, then erase it to free up some memory. Two hours later, I finally got up from the couch.

I still don't know what it was that pulled me in about this film. The actors? They're pretty enough: Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts. Sure, but that only lasts for a few moments, so it's more than that.

The tagline for the film is, "If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking," a rather clever way of describing a film that a one-liner cannot describe. It's love. It's intrigue. Games. Betrayal. Distrust. Abandonment.

We first meet Dan (Jude Law) when he spots the young Anna and is instantly attracted to her, red hair and all, when BOOM! a car hits her just after their first look. He helps her to the hospital, they strike up a conversation, and more is assumed as we pick up with Dan in the next scene in a slide of time as he's having his photo taken for his new book jacket. The photographer is Anna (Julia Roberts), and he is instantly attracted to her. After he makes a pass at her, and she sort of responds, he admits that he has a girlfriend. She recoils and throws him out.

We meet dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen) in an amusing scene as he's having online sex in the middle of a hospital. This is the first time he's ever done such a thing, but he finds it exciting, so he agrees to meet the girl at an aquarium to continue in person. He finds Anna, whose name matches, and after some awkwardness, she explains to him that they've both been set up in a practical joke by Dan. Still, Larry and Anna are instantly attracted to each other, and we can assume they enter into a long-term relationship.

We never see these relationships evolve. We just see the beginning, and then Nichols instantly cuts to the next scene. It's a wise choice, and we're never bored by it, as he explains in conversation just what the time lapse has been, and we understand gradually where these relationships are.

But everything blows up in these relationships when all four meet at Anna's photo exhibition -- by the way, this is the only scene in the movie where all four are in the same room at the same time. Larry knows "Cupid" (Anna and his pet name for Dan) is trying to make a move on Anna, while at the same time Larry finds himself attracted to Alice. When we find ourself in the next shot after time elapses, we know doom will follow.

The intriguing idea to me is that these are not one-sided characters, and we learn the different sides of them through their bad decisions. Dan seems to be self-effacing, gentle and kind when we first meet him, as he's drawn to the young and helpless Alice. But then we see the sadistic side of him as he easily lies to his girlfriend and has fun deceiving people online. Larry is a decent sort who is rather bored with his professional life. He might stray but he's honest about it and wants to keep his relationship with Anna real. Anna seems to be a good person when she's literally sucked into this relationship with Dan, a move that seems to destroy who she is. But Alice is the most interesting of all, shifting like a chameleon in most surprising ways.

All of the actors are wonderful here. Clive Owen is increasingly watchable, from Sin City to Closer; "Larry" lives in a body where his feelings are close to the surface, and we feel each one as he expresses them. Natalie Portman as Alice is in a role that should have been an academy award nomination: she's young and frail, clinging to Dan as he feels compelled to go to someone who doesn't need him as much, but eventually shows surprising strength. Each of these characters may not always present who they truly are to the ones they love, and feelings can shift in a second. Just like in real life.

Thumb's up for Closer.


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