I can’t help but recommend.
Closer (2004): 8 out of 10: Mike Nichols directs this theater adaptation with a top-notch cast consisting of Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen. Portman and Owen went on to each win a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role only to lose out in the same category at the Academy Awards to Cate Blanchett and Morgan Freeman respectfully.
The story is how these four people in two relationships (Portman/Law and Roberts/Owen) intertwine and destroy both their current relationships and each other.
The Good: The acting, as one imagines, is outstanding in this. Everyone seems to lift up everyone else, and the awards committees got it right with Clive Owen and Natalie Portman. Those two are at another level here. Between the two of them, Owen has a much harder job as his character is less flashy and easily could have been eaten by the scenery. Machiavellian wheels are spinning behind his goofy facade, and the subtle threat of violence towards both his enemies and his lovers are always just below the surface.
Many people will forever remember this film as the one where Natalie Portman plays a stripper. What is impressive to me however is the scene in the airport hotel near the end of the film. She plays every tone so ideally, it is almost impossible to look away – an incredible performance.
That said her stripper stuff is also awe-inspiring. I had never really thought of Natalie Portman as drop-dead gorgeous. I have changed my mind.
Mike Nichols is no stranger to directing plays nor directing theater adaptations. (‘Angels in America‘ being one of the most impressive of the genre). He has a good eye for blocking and movement considering the piece consists of only four people talking with each other about things that happen off-screen. If you didn’t know up front that this was based on a play, you would eventually figure it out, but to Nichols credit, it could take a while.
The Bad: Jude Law and Julia Roberts each get the short straw in this quad. Their relationship makes little sense for either of them, and the story does them no favors. Jude Law doesn’t look good in this film. He is starting to lose his hair and skin seems sallow. He has a job that is such a dead-end that the symbolism is a bit on the nose. Oh and he is a duplicitous stalker creep. So why is Julia Roberts doing anything other than getting a restraining order? Whatever the appeal is it happened offscreen, and neither Roberts no Law sell any real relationship. It is believable that they could hook up for sex mind you. Both have no moral compass whatsoever. It just isn’t plausible that any such tryst wouldn’t end permanently with the calling of a cab.
The film takes dramatic time jumps without telling the audience. On one level I like the way Nichols trusts his audience to figure out that it is a year later just based on dialogue. On the other hand, a lot has happened during the time skipped, and it isn’t always clear what. This dependence on offscreen action results in a lot of the possible tension being out of the piece as we start at the end a then describe what has transpired.
The Ugly: Thor came out seven years after this. What were the producers thinking? All the had to do is give Natalie Portman a wig (Blonde, Pink or Purple) and tell her to play this character but instead of being in love with a declining Jude Law she has to be in love with Chris Hemsworth. Honestly, I would like to recut all of Natalie Portman’s films and replace whatever her current performance is with this Manic Pixie Dream Girl she conjured for this film.
In Conclusion, I am having a hard time nailing down how much I like this film. The Jude Law/ Julia Roberts scenes really take the wind out of the sails but then Clive and Natalie show up, and I am loving life again. Overall I have a feeling parts of this film will stick in my mind long after most movies are forgotten and for that reason, I can’t help but recommend.