Saturday, December 04, 2004


Movie Review: Closer.

Yeah, I know; I've been remiss in my movie reviews lately.

The trouble is that I see movies mostly on the weekends, and there's typically a meal before I get home, and then I'm then often occupied with another chore.

So by the time I reach my computer to blog, I'm usually motivated to do something else entirely, and not terribly enthusiastic about saying much about the movie I had seen. At least nothing beyond, "Yeah, it was good," or "Holy crap, this movie was so bad, it made me long for the cinematic artistry of Baby Geniuses 2: Superbabies."

And then I go surf superhero erotica. Me, I'm a big fan of anything involving Batgirl.

Right now, however, I guess I have enough motivation to say a few words about Mike Nichols' new movie Closer, based on the play of the same name, and starring a quartet of perfect pod people, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen.

To borrow a joke I've heard elsewhere, Closer is definitely one of the Top 100 Jude Law movies of 2004. Sheesh, is this guy in everything? It's as if Jude Law looked at the Caine-Hackman Theory and decided, what the hell, I can beat 'em. Both. Combined.

The bottom line: Closer is an engaging, well-acted movie. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to make you think a tad.

As usual, I don't do plot summaries. If you want to know what the movie is about, go read Roger Ebert's review.

All done? Good, let's begin.

Get a little Closer, don't be shy.

While I always appreciate Roger Ebert's perspectives, I rarely seem to agree with them. However, in this case Ebert captures Closer perfectly.

No one here is very likable. Everyone does something that no normal human would contemplate doing. Most people have sex in order to bring pleasure to themselves, or their partners; the characters in Closer enjoy wielding sex as a knife, always at the ready to dig between each other's ribs.

Making love? No, these four are just making hate. They find it much more rewarding. Love needs constant care and feeding to burn bright, while hate can fuel itself all on its own.

Interestingly enough, Closer -- and I'm assuming the original play, which I have not seen-- is counterintuitive to most traditional love stories. In a traditional romance, a man or woman makes a mistake, usually adultery, and suffers until he or she admits their guilt, whereupon the character is set free in order to achieve the happy ending the story requires.

In Closer, the morality is inverted; you desperately want these characters to just Shut. The. Hell. Up. To shut up before they reveal their sins in a misguided attempt at healing. As in regular romances, one character pressures another to just come clean, to admit their guilt, so all can be forgiven. However, the pressure comes not from a desire for mutual absolution and eventual healing-- the pressure is there just to bring out more pain.

Witness a sequence towards the end of the film, where one man tells another, I slept with your lover, simply to create painful distrust. The now-informed man returns to his lover, and anyone watching can tell that as long as he's willing to let this go, he and her can achieve happiness.

Yet, he still pressures his lover for the "truth." It has nothing to do with forgiveness-- he already knows the truth; he can silently forgive her all by himself. Still he pokes and prods until she finally admits that, yes, she cheated on him.

What happens next is painful, but inevitable. In a normal romance, she'd obviously be the guilty party, and he'd be justifiable in his anger. Yet it is her next move that is wholly jusitifed-- her lover sought catharsis through unnecessary honesty instead of relying on the trust that could save their love.

These characters have fetishized honesty, and revelation, and forgotten the importance of trust.

Is his trust burned? Yes. Would a modern confessional society instruct anyone in their position to demand the truth from her? Of course. Should he demand honesty, if by fulfillment of that demand he destroys the love he's trying to save? No; but it's obvious everyone here would rather be right and miserable than wrong and in love.

Closer has one major flaw that dogs it throughout: the play it's based on simply isn't very good for the screen. The writing is enjoyably sharp, but it's too sharp; no one in real life talks like these characters. Taken out of the the theater and placed on the screen, the dialogue feels overenunciated, as if the words are fashioned to convey the emotional nuances a theater audience can't easily pick up from the balcony. On the big screen, however, the audience can watch eyes and lips act out emotions. In a number of scenes, the esquisitely-constructed words just seem to get in the way of watching life unfold. We're watching speeches, not conversations.

Still, there are some great scenes in the film-- there's a cybersex scene that had the audience laughing loudly-- and again, the acting is first-rate. Jude Law is his usual competent self, even when his character is the most dislikable in the film, very much a skeezball trying to be the nice guy (or a nice guy failing to avoid being a skeezball).

Natalie Portman's character is a little too stereotypical to be believed. Then again, the film really only demands that she be pretty to look at, and she's very good at that. However, she's outstanding in her scene with Clive Owen in the strip club, and not just because she looks dynamite in a g-string. Watch her smiles; she clearly knows how much power she has. What's doubly interesting is that the power isn't all sexual; most of it comes from her monopoly on the truth Owen's character desires. She gets to enjoy a two-fer.

Julia Roberts does well with what she has to do. I liked her a lot in the film, which surprised me given how much I genuinely dislike her in just about everything else she's in. I've never found her particularly attractive-- personal taste-- but she's never looked better than in Closer. Probably because she never looks like she's wearing any makeup, allowing her natural beauty, and emotions, to shine through. She looks human, vulnerable; certainly not like a movie star.

Clive Owen is a treat, the most enjoyable character in the movie. He's probably the slimiest, but Owen clearly relishes the opportunity to chew scenery, stealing every moment he's on frame. Given his rather lackluster career as of late, Owen definitely needed to have a role like this to remind everyone just how great an actor he can be. The Oscar buzz is ignoring him this year, but if my vote counted, he'd definitely be on my short list for Best Supporting Actor nominees.

Oh, one final thought-- no, Natalie Portman does not get naked. She reportedly filmed a nude scene, but it was cut out of the movie as her request. Beyond the purely prurient interest (and yes, there's a *lot* of that), it's a disappointment. Actresses always talk about their reluctance to do nudity unless it's "integral" to the part. The aforementioned strip club sequence with Clive Owen is where she would have been nude-- the gap is obvious. She teases him by revealing different parts of her body. The lack of nudity, however, sucks you out of reality, as anyone can tell that no stripper would do what she was doing clothed.

Well, anyone who's ever been to a strip club. Uh, not that I would know.

So, go see Closer. Be prepared for a movie that kinda goes around in circles, and doesn't really end up in a satisfying place, but at least involves good acting and a cracking script.

Just don't bring a date. Not if you hope to avoid arguing after the film.

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