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Closer’ seduces with dark outlook on relationships

Mary Squillace | Monday, January 24, 2005

Trust. Honesty. Forgiveness. While these traits are generally closely associated with love, they have no place in director Mike Nichol’s (“The Graduate, “Angels in America”) examination of relationships. In his film “Closer,” love is not blind. It’s naked and complicated and often wielded deviously. The film is an adaptation of Patrick Marber’s hit play. Following its 1997 debut in London, the play received rave reviews and continued to garner awards when it opened in the United States.The cast consists of only four characters and does not feature one central protagonist. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the characters’ interactions with each other. Jude Law plays Dan, an obituary writer and aspiring novelist. At the start of the film, Dan falls for Alice (Natalie Portman) who immediately charms him with her youthful spirit and subtle seductiveness. However, when Dan meets Anna (Julia Roberts), a photographer, his relationship with Alice becomes severely complicated.The flirtation between Anna and Dan quickly evolves into a full-blown affair, and Larry (Clive Owen) and Alice, their respective lovers, turn to each other as they simultaneously combat this infidelity. The film tracks the deeply entwined and overlapping characters through as they thrive, falter and ultimately fail in love.The story unfolds at a rapid, but steady pace. This way the film manages to address the taboo topics like sex and adultery without sensationalizing them. Additionally, to do justice to the intensity of Marber’s screenplay, Nichol creates palpable tension and depth with deliberate and unique stylistic tactics.Asserting people typically remember only the beginnings and endings of relationships, Nichol represents each relationship only with its beginning or ending. In this way, he presents just enough information to keep his viewers informed, without overwhelming them with unnecessary details. Because the narrative hinges on the dialogue, effective and high-quality acting is essential. Additionally, each character is both virtuous and villainous, which requires elasticity in each actor’s portrayal. Fortu-nately, all four cast members rise to the occasion, and turn-out complex, compelling performances.For her role as Anna, Roberts sheds her toothy grin and typical charm, and instead relies on her ability to subtly convey guilt and deceit. Similarly, Law exhibits his range, as he takes on a role that is vastly different from his recent roles in “I Heart the Huckabees” and “Cold Mountain.” Portman, a rising star in Hollywood, proves herself worthy of her recent Golden Globe with a focused and convincing performance.However, in spite of being the least recognizable of the cast, the film’s other Golden Globe recipient, Owen (who originally played Dan in the London stage production) arguably delivers the film’s best performance. At times his character teeters on the brink of self-destruction, and Owen appropriately adopts an air of raw desperation, gaining the audience’s trust and sympathy. In other scenes, he changes his approach in order to capture Larry’s calculating and vindictive side. Overall, Owen’s seemingly effortless malleability effectively embodies the complexity of the character. The collective work of the cast lends itself to a powerful finished product.With “Closer,” Nichols creates a seductive starkness that tempts the viewer to fully engage him or herself, by making assumptions, evaluations and judgments. The nature of this tale is one that undoubtedly lingers long after the screening, as it presents a disconcerting but gripping commentary on relationships.