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Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Patrick Marber’s play is definitely worth looking into. Unfortunately, it may get overlooked.

Look no further than the cast to see the potential in this tangled tale of a love quadrangle between four very humanly flawed characters. Not having seen the play to gauge a comparison of the film to, Marber’s characters at the very least feel like they’ve been thoroughly fleshed out.

Here is a film that is sure to make some waves based on performances alone. Anna (Julia Roberts), a divorcee photographer living in London, falls hopelessly for the troublesome Daniel (Jude Law), a former journalist turned novelist who is bound romantically to his muse Alice (Natalie Portman), an ex-stripper turned waitress.

How does Dr. Larry (Clive Owen) fit in? Daniel inadvertently introduces him to Anna after a witty yet deceitful game of cyber-sex that is not only fresh and original, but also more realistic than most chat room sequences in other films.

That seems to be the heart and soul of Closer to begin with: realistic, original, and strikingly captivating. No two characters are completely innocent, and no character is innately pegged with the badge of evil.

We find ourselves rooting for each one in specific circumstances and pitying them in others. To say that scenes this raw have never graced the silver screen would be naive, but to ignore their courageousness would be a mistake.

Roberts, especially, extends herself against the typecast that usually accompanies her name. Her Anna is capable of shameful wrong and falls into the trappings we all find ourselves falling into at times. She is weak. She is a coward. The same could be said for the others as well. They are each victims of their own loneliness and cowardice.

Larry’s isolation leads him to troll for sex on the Internet, ultimately resulting in his involvement with Anna. Alice, although remarkably independent in many regards, also proves to be running from something in her life, although exactly what that may be is not entirely known.

Dan’s reluctance to accept what he wants for fear of losing what he has proves critical. He declares the desire for truth from Alice, yet he refused to be truthful with her about his feelings for Anna. Anna feared the consequences of the truth with Larry, yet was brutally honest with Dan. Dan declares that “lies are the great currency of the world” when asking why Anna didn’t simply lie to protect him from her dalliances.

In retrospect, Larry’s pride drives Anna away, but his regret feels genuine even if he is a prick at times. Alice wants to love unconditionally, but her lack of trust stems from some dark secret in her past. She holds all the cards in the game of lies, as Dan learns ultimately in the end.

Much has been made of the question of nudity in relation to Portman’s depiction of Alice, a character who leaves a life of stripping behind her when she moves to London from New York only to find herself returning to this practice in a time of weakness. The gossip columns had a field day with Nichols’ decision to excise sequences of full-frontal nudity at Ms. Portman’s request. Despite the hullabaloo, Closer manages to survive without these scenes.

In fact, Portman manages to pull off yet another brilliant performance in the wake of her stints as Princess Amidala in George Lucas’ “galaxy far, far away,” first in Garden State and now here as Alice.

Every aspect of this film is tangible and genuine, yet some may find it difficult to relate to some of these characters because of their flaws. The problem is, these flaws are what make them each indelibly human and ultimately drives this film forward.

This isn’t your run of the mill perfunctory romance, a tale of lovers who overcome the odds created for them specifically to overcome. Instead, there is no clear-cut couple that stands out in the film because they are all guilty in some ways. We believe the love between these characters, and as they get pulled further and further into the tangled web of lies, deceit, loss, and love, we can’t help but identify with the places they find themselves at times.

When Dan and Anna decide to break it off with Alice and Larry respectively, owning up to their year-long affair, we peek into situations everyone finds themselves in at times in our lives, playing the roles of the heartbreaker and the heartbroken. We see evidence for and against each couple when they are together, and when one pair emerges “triumphant” in the end it doesn’t necessarily come across in a welcomed fashion but we accept it.

We understand the motivations, and we aren’t asked to agree, but we are forced to consent to the result much like we must understand and respect the choices of friends and loved ones in our lives.

Although Closer may not be regarded as Nichols’ strongest work, he still deserves kudos for adapting this stage play to the screen in such a way that the essence is retained throughout. At times one can picture these scenes unfolding on a stage, yet without feeling overtly staged.


Mario Anima

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