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Culture Reviews
Closer /By M.Nichols/
Until April 17, Dome Cinema 
By Sam Gerrans
Written by Patrick Marber (based on his play). Directed by Mike Nichols. Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen. 104 minutes. USA.

Review top sheet: “Closer” begins well, is genuinely funny in places, and sports the best opening soundtrack I’ve heard in a long while.

The story concerns four physically desirable characters for whom the concepts of sexual continence, abstinence or even rudimentary self-control hold no meaning whatsoever and the sticky situations they get themselves into.

Seriously not first-date material.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you want to spice up your life by snorting a line of high-grade suspicion and resentment up the nose of your current relationship (and don’t mind if a film which begins life as a romantic comedy suddenly stops being one halfway through)
No, if: you don’t buy into the idea of moral relativism, think you know what sin is and don’t want to go to Hell
Maybe, if: you are considering a career as a groupie or a lap dancer

Comments: the opening worked for me. And twenty minutes in, I was beginning to enjoy the hope that I could write something approaching a rave review.

But as the story moved on, large holes appeared in that particular balloon. We hovered on full thrust a few feet off the ground during act two and were standing in a field in a basket by the time the film hinted it was going to end soon.

But there were compensations.

This film gives great subtext. Roberts and Law tread round each other like a couple of lions on heat while exchanging banalities and we sit transfixed. This is good cinema.

Also, the romantic-comedy section of the film (i.e. the first half-hour) is appealing and funny (though gross in places).

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: **
• Dialogue: ****
• Substance: **
• Film craft: ***

Story comments: “Closer” probes (exhaustively) how shagging other people’s partners will give you exquisite but temporary relief from an otherwise bland existence and how, when other people start shagging your partner, the foundation on which you built your house will dissolve into an unpleasant mush.

Dialogue comments: the dialogue is good. Well-crafted lines are delivered naturally and believably.

Substance comments: this film is about “lurve”: that neurosis-based ego-trip on the weaknesses of people you can feel good about hurting (as long as they can hurt you more than you can hurt them) and which we all want but hate when we have it because it hurts so much (but which we don’t want to stop having because it is just too pleasurable to give up). It’s an interesting subject, but not one I felt I knew any more about after watching this film.

“Closer” demonstrates – without expressly meaning to - how capricious and infantile we look when, aged thirty-something, we still haven’t progressed emotionally past fifteen years old. The end product is a sort of morality tale about the vice once known as vanity welded to a story which began life as a romantic comedy.

The American moral obsession with “honesty” (i.e. using your partner as a priest after you’ve done the dirty on her) is embedded in here as well. This form of moral duplicity leaves me lost as to how to react. It appears to be a given in the States, but I’m from England and I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be thinking.

I mean, ideally, don’t cheat on your wife. But if push comes to shove, be a man about it and learn to carry your burden alone. That’s what I say. Where does this urge to gush come from? Perhaps someone can explain it to me.

I was faintly annoyed that the screenwriter applies this cheat-and-tell compulsion to the Englishmen in the film as it is not a British trait. Moreover – though less significantly - we call the alcoholic drink consisting of vodka and tonic a “vodka and tonic”. To us, a “vodka tonic” means a tonic made from vodka.

Here endeth the lesson.

Film craft comments: shifts in situation (who is currently shagging whom) and time (blink, and it’s six months later) occur unannounced. No titles cluttering up the screen or shots of calendars and Christmas trees here. This was clearly a characteristic of the original play which the director left in the film. Good call.

A taste of the story: Alice (Natalie Portman) gets picked up by Dan (Jude Law) and they start shagging each other. Then Dan starts shagging Anna (Julia Roberts) thus causing Alice great pain. Anna then starts shagging Larry (Clive Owen) thus causing Dan great pain. Dan then starts shagging...


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

07.02.05
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