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Laramie Movie Scope: Closer

A searing sexual drama

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 10, 2005 -- “Closer” is one of the top 10 films of 2004, a searing drama about love, lies and high-stakes sexual politics. The movie is helmed by veteran uber director Mike Nichols (“Primary Colors”). The power of this film is reminiscent of other classic Nichols films, like “The Graduate” and “Carnal Knowledge,” made over 30 years ago. Nichols is still a master of his craft. The powerful screenplay was written by Patrick Marber, and is based on his own stage play.

The film features outstanding performances by all four of the lead actors, Julia Roberts (“Ocean's 12”), Clive Owen (“King Arthur”), Natalie Portman (“Garden State”), and Jude Law (“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”). They play four strangers, living in London, whose lives become entangled in an intense romantic quadrangle. Cheating and lying, and other despicable behavior is rampant in the film, along with sexually-explicit dialogue.

There is a nice symmetry to the story as every action has unintended consequences. Those who win also lose and those who lose at love sometimes end up winning. Some of those who end up alone are able to adjust, some are not. Some people that you think are master manipulators end up not being as clever as they appeared to be. Others are more clever than you might originally suspect. Ultimately, though, there are no winners in this dark, desperate lovers game.

The film uses an unusual technique to advance the story: restraint. It doesn't just flat out show you what happens to the characters any more than it shows you explicit sex scenes. What it does is reveal the most important events of the film after the fact, through dialogue. We leap months or years ahead in time in some cuts. We find out what has been going on in that time through dialogue. The thing is, we don't know whether or not to believe what the characters are telling us, so we're not really sure what happened. This creates additional suspense.

Revealing these plot twists through dialogue rather than purely cinematic storytelling techniques is a very effective narrative device, used here by one of the masters of the medium, Nichols. It puts us in the place of the characters, we don't know the truth of what has happened until it is revealed later. It puts us into the heart of the story and deep into the heads of the characters.

The plot is as intricate as the dialogue. Some have complained this film is not dark enough. That is a lot of bull excrement. It is plenty dark enough. Some liked the film just because they enjoy watching Julia Roberts talk dirty, or perhaps they like watching Natalie Portman's striptease act. There is a lot more to this film than that. The story is masterfully told and the acting is superb. All the lead actors deserve award recognition. Despite all the darkness, which is not my favorite thing at all, this film rates an A.

For more information on this film, including characters, trailer, cast and crew, production notes, synopsis, click on this link to the official home page of Closer.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)