Acting Out Relationships
Although Closer has only one interest, it may be one of those interests that actually matter in any lifetime. It's about relationships -- in particular, the relationships between people who are attracted to one another. Focusing almost entirely on one-to-one conversations, the movie depicts the selfish nature of attractions and the use of deception as an obvious tool in the quest to satisfy an attraction. Because of the differences in personality among its four primary characters, viewers have quite a bit to reflect upon after they watch the unsettling yet familiar wars waged with words in the name of "love."
This is a daring movie because it has so much potential not to work. Closer emerges as a prime example of how a script can find a precious breath of life, thus escaping from a chasm of doom, by finding just the right combination of actors and director. Veteran director Mike Nichols knows just what he wants his characters to be like, and his four players deliver impressively. All of them are vastly dislikable, but thanks to Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen, they're also easily identifiable and honestly portrayed.
Closer depends on its particular actors like a car depends on its tires. Each of them are so skilled in expressing their characters' ugly nuances that it's hard to imagine the movie working at all if the cast were different. Roberts has been dishing out fiery righteousness for years; here, the righteousness is subdued, the fire withheld because of the guilt that constantly counteracts it, a guilt borne from saying what sounds right and believing something else. Owen is a tough customer, and here he's able to transform that outer toughness into a smugness created by pride in his own simplicity.
Law seems born for his role as a pretty boy who, despicably, can't control his attractions and has no intention to try. He's charming and clever, good with words, and cries when he can't get his way as a way of getting his way. He makes up for his callousness by believing his selected moments of bluntness reveal how much he really cares, as if he's convincing himself more than the person he's talking to. And Portman is a revelation as a wicked youth who uses her bluntness as a defense and deceit as an offense. She has to watch what she says because her emotions give too much away.
Because we recognize these people and the traits they exhibit, we can consider what the movie is saying about relationships. We see how neurotic over-analysis corrupts any purity of emotion and causes such relationships to become a game of self-justification. These characters defend in anticipation of attack. Whatever drove any two of them to get together in the first place is lost in the destructive ritual of maintaining an empty status quo. Perhaps it's no epiphany that most people's motives in any relationship are selfish, but here no punches are pulled for the sake of showing just how easy it is for the machine to fall into this perpetual motion. The movie uses "strangers" as a constant theme, and shows how the "stranger" status can never be overcome when trust is sacrificed for the sake of strengthening defenses.
Its path of guarded destruction is unrelenting and its characters are no fun to be around, so Closer runs the risk of turning its constant sourness bland. What begins as fascinating plays dangerously close to being repetitive. Thankfully, the film moves relatively quickly, with large jumps in chronology and with a short running time overall. Most of all, it offers a sumptuous palette of acting. We wouldn't care what the movie is trying to say if we couldn't be convinced these people were real. Though you may find the characters distasteful, you might not, as the film's theme song suggests, be able to take your eyes and mind off of them.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "R' for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.