Friday, January 28, 2005

Title: Closer
Cast: Jude Law, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman
Director: Mike Nichols

I think there is something about what you take from Closer that says something who you are and how you see things. at the core of Closer there are 4 characters – 2 men, Dan (Jude Law) and Larry (Clive Owen), and 2 women, Alice (Natalie Portman) and Anna (Julia Roberts). The specific combinations between them are mutable, hazy – like the stream of the narrative, which is constructed from nodes of time. Each scene separate relationship bubbles, which see shifts forward with each new node. Closer is based on a play, which shows from not only the dialogue (the usual give away), but also from this manner in which time shifts, the dialogue at the start of each new scene indicating how much time has passed, and giving some shadowing of what happened in the mean time.

To a degree this underlines a certain weakness in Closer, there is so much more to the story than what we see. But we are reliant on how much we get from the dialogue, and what that says about how a character behaves. One character describes another character as evil, but we don’t necessarily actually see what caused this accusation to be made. By the same degree characters are telling the truth or telling lies, but again we are given to make certain assumptions. Which is part of who you are comes into it, do you buy the lies when you hear them, or do you see through them? How do you see the differences between two men, one who is harsh while the other is tender, one who would hit a woman while the other wouldn’t?

Dan is a writer of obituaries for a newspaper, when he meets Alice, an American recently arrived in London. The two quickly form a relationship, and in the process Dan is inspired to write a book. When he is getting a photograph taken for the sleeve he meets Anna, a photographer who he becomes obsessed with, even if he still loves Alice. Thanks to Dan’s machinations, Anna meets Larry and the pair make a connection. But Dan isn’t content to let that happen and determines to stir thing, and the path shifts on from there, getting messier in the process.

It is curious how Clive Owen and Natalie Portman have just won Golden Globes for supporting actors for Closer. At times all 4 characters are really leads, though on balance I would perhaps say that the film really splits into the story of the two male leads. With each new scene determined by how they relate to the two women at any given time. The fact that Owen and Portman have received acclaim for their roles is telling though, given that they both play the parts informed by anger and get to play up. Roberts is interesting, because it is something of a change of role for her, though originally the part was to be played by Cate Blanchett and Roberts was a last minute switch. Increasingly Law is someone who I find annoying on screen, his recent levels of cinematic saturation certainly haven’t helped – but he does well enough here, particularly as the film reaches it’s later stages and Dan starts to realise just how much of a mess things have become.

Patrick Marber graduated from being a comic writer for programmes like Brass Eye with his writing of the play Closer, a title that comes from his love of the Joy Division album of the same name. With the success of the play in the theatre there had been some previous interest in turning it into a film. But it wasn’t until the approach by director Mike Nichols that Marber was happy for the project to go ahead. The end result is flawed, as mentioned earlier there are too many gaps where you are reliant on a phrase like “you evil bitch” to base a character on, where some off the cuff references substitute for back story. At times this can lead some to the conclusion that all we are seeing is people swearing at each other, rather than conducting real relationships. But what we are provided is with an intense film, which is striking, the level of the performances and the significance of each scene being enough to generate a certain amount of steam to propel the story as best it can. So that while we can see some of the flaws, they aren’t necessarily such a problem that they incapacitate the narrative. In the end, I quite thoroughly enjoyed Closer.

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