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CLOSER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
Director: Mike Nichols
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2005

"We're happy...aren't we?"

Film ****

Mike Nichols has endured remarkable longevity as a director, and there's no doubt that he knows a great deal about the territory of his films. Other than that of Neil Labute, he's perhaps the only filmmaker to bring to the screen stories that reflect the true pain and bitterness that reside in relationships. He did it with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, the ever-controversial Carnal Knowledge in 1971, and he has done it once more with the brilliant and mesmerizing Closer.

If anything, this is an anti-romantic drama if there ever was one. It's truly the kind of honest movie that seldom comes out of Hollywood, and while this makes Closer an even bigger triumph, I certainly wouldn't this to ignite a trend of any sort--chances are that would simply depress the hell out of audiences. This is one of last year's best films, and will remain a gem for years to come simply because it carries a brutal tone that few films have even dared to go near, and won't go near for quite some time.

It should be noted that this is by no means a typical romantic movie. Viewers may think otherwise by taking notice of the attractive cast. Be prepared for some of the most assaulting and nerve shredding dialogue exchanges to ever make it to film. It's the best film of its kind since Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

The screenplay by Patrick Marber, who adapted it from his own stage play, is an examination on what draws two people together, only to have them fall apart on account one's foolish actions. Set in London, the film opens with a chance meeting between Dan (Jude Law) and Alice (Natalie Portman) who seem smitten right from first glance. He is an obituary writer/aspiring novelist, she a visitor from New York City, who fled there as part of ending a relationship.

We then discover, as time passes by, that Dan and Alice are indeed in love, but not until after a scene where Dan begins to dangerously flirt with Anna (Julia Roberts), an American photographer shooting him for a book jacket. Despite him telling her that he's already been taken, he insists on seeing her. Anna, a recent divorcee, is flattered by the offer but doesn't feel right about falling for man who's spoken for.

More time goes by, and as a result of a practical joke by way of an internet chat room, Dan (pretending to be Anna) chats with Larry (Clive Owen), a wealthy dermatologist. This leads to Larry encountering the real Anna. After taking notice of being the victim of a most embarrassing joke, Larry and Anna connect and eventually become a married couple deeply in love.

And although the two sets of couples appear to be in love, nothing could be further from the truth. During the course of a four year time span, infidelities occur, betrayals are revealed and harsh confessions are made. While the characters admit to one another that they want to be truthful to each other, it's almost as if they can never allow themselves to be since they find ways to mess up want they seem to desire the most.

The four leads in Closer have never been more superb. Each of them deliver revealing performances that should be regarded as career crowning. Two of them were acknowledged at this year's Oscars, but all of them deserved extreme recognition.

First off, there's Julia Roberts, an actress that I've never been entirely crazy about despite her impeccable beauty. As the affection-consumed Anna, she delivers her edgiest, and most terrific, film performance yet. As a result, I have a much higher level of respect for her as an actress.

Jude Law had quite a busy year in 2004 with many film appearances and each of them outstanding. Here, Law offers something of a subtle variation of his womanizing role in the recent Alfie, but in a much more serious tone. Law is quite riveting as Dan, whose actions ignite the cycle deception amongst the characters, and ironically enough, comes out of the movie as the most sympathetic character.

Natalie Portman has long been wise beyond her young years ever since her debut in The Professional more than a decade ago. With this film, in addition to last year's Garden State, she has truly arrived as a big time actress of uncompromising range. I can't really afford to spoil and details about her character here, but I will say that it's here most provocative role to date.

And there's Clive Owen, in an excellent and most deserving Oscar nominated performance, who may have created the ultimate character audiences will love to despise. Owen dominates every scene, starting off as a sort-of victim of betrayal, only to emerge as a nasty force of a man as a result. A dialogue exchange between Owen and Roberts involving one's infidelity is one of the most gripping and devastating moments I've ever seen in any movie.

Closer isn't a happy film, and is never intended to be such. The film is masterfully bold for its brutal honesty. Rather than as a symbol of love, the heart is reflected here as more of a tool, and actions are made in order to shake up another's emotions. It's a most insightful film on the vicious things people are capable of.

This is one of last year's very best films, and delivers some of the best writing and acting in recent memory.

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star has made a return to its Superbit format for this release. It goes without saying that the picture performance is absolutely astonishing from beginning to end. The anamorphic picture is stunning in its every frame and every tone. Colors are magnificent, especially in a key sequence set in a nightclub. It's most astonishing for a film that is reduced to confined settings for individual scenes. It's a purely remarkable looking disc.

Audio ****

Having seen the film in its theatrical run, I wasn't sure that even a Superbit disc could make the most of a dialogue driven film. Trust me, it did. Both the Dolby Digital 5.1, and especially the 5.1 DTS, deliver a superb level of sound quality to this drama. Dialogue is impeccably heard, and every level of background noise is captured wonderfully. Occasional music is delivered in the sharpest level, most notably Damien Rice's haunting song, "The Blower's Daughter", which bookends the film. A knockout job!

Features **

Being a Superbit disc, the only casualty of the release is that of the extras department. The disc does include the music video for Damien Rice's song, "The Blower's Daughter", as well as a trailer for the film, and a bonus preview gallery.

Summary:

Closer is one of the most gripping adult dramas to ever surface onto a movie screen. It is a rich triumph of acting, writing, and directing. As I mentioned before, it may not be for everyone, but for those seeking a superior level of provocative cinema, this film awaits you!

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