The setup holds promise: Four characters in dreary London couple and de-couple, falling in and out of relationships over a four year span. The story is told piecemeal, as it focuses on brief events in the couples' lives, separated by months or years. It begins as American stripper Alice (Natalie Portman) meets British obituary writer Dan (Jude Law) by happenstance. A year later, Dan encounters photographer Anna (Julia Roberts), whom he immediately begins to lust after. Later, Dan plays an internet prank on dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen), which unexpectedly sends him into the arms of Anna. They marry, and Anna promptly starts an affair with Dan. Dan confesses to Alice, she becomes a stripper again. Anna confesses to Larry, and she leaves him, sending Dan to Alice for the first time. And round and round we go until everyone's had a shot at everyone else.
From the start, Closer makes no attempt to hide its unlikely plot and wholesale absurdity. Characters behave completely irrationally, uttering the worst dialogue imaginable. "Why won't you let me love you!?" "I love you and I need a piss." Who talks like this!? No one. Not even British people.
Of course, no one goes to the movies to see boring reality projected on the screen, but the ridiculous situations we see in Closer defy logic to an extreme that ought not to be allowed on film. Would an estranged husband really offer to sign divorce papers if he was given the opportunity to treat his wife "like a whore" one last time? And would this change her mind about the divorce? People this crazy don't exist, and they don't make for good film subjects in any case. The whole affair is just plain phony.
Nichols has a legendary pervy side (Carnal Knowledge, The Graduate), and Closer proves that it's only getting worse. Here he doesn't just treat Portman and Roberts like sluts, but he manages to turn the guys into whores, too, with Dan and Larry engaging in a little cybersex game that ranks as both the most amusing and least credible part of the film.
Closer is much more interesting from a structural standpoint than for anything in its repellent story. Unfortunately, the time skipping doesn't even come close to carrying the film on its own. If any element of this story is interesting to you, track down a copy of 1983's Betrayal, which is told with similar gaps in the timeline -- but in reverse. You might also check out Nichols' own Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a similar four-character movie that's filled with rage and, unlike Closer, a soul.
Perhaps the most unconscionable thing about Closer is that it takes four excellent actors and consistently insults them with shoddy dialogue that reduces them to caricatures and jokes. I feel especially embarrassed for Roberts, whose role in the film seems to be a neurotic potty-mouth who's willing to blurt out whatever pops into her head.
Don't be misled by the film's timing and its white poster into thinking Closer is a holiday film for the masses. On the contrary: Suffering through Closer is like watching a terrible train wreck in excruciatingly slow motion.
Sorry folks: The DVD does not include Portman's nude scene. In fact, all you get by way of extras is a music video.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th December 2004
Box Office USA: $34.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $115.5M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 65
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenwriter: Patrick Marber
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