One step ‘Closer’

“Closer”Columbia PicturesDirected by Mike NicholsWritten by Patrick MarberBased on the play by Patrick MarberStarring Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Julia RobertsRated R/100 minutesOpens in theaters Dec. 3

Four and a half out of five stars

The truth is a magnetic and dangerous thing: Although we may want to hide from it, the truth has this disturbing way of finding itself at the center of our lives and relationships. And, because it cannot be ignored or disbelieved, the truth has the unique power to be far more devastating than even the most vicious or attractive lie.

Such is the dichotomy explored in “Closer,” the newest film by Academy Award-winning director Mike Nichols starring Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owens. “Closer” concerns itself with exploring the random meetings of its subjects, their immediate attraction to one another and the devastation that their sexual jealousy and personal inadequacies have on each other’s lives.

At the heart of “Closer” is an intricate, stark and enticing screenplay penned by Patrick Barber, the man responsible for the namesake play from which “Closer” is adapted. The theater version of “Closer” won the Laurence Olivier/BBC award for best new play, the London Critics’ Circle Award, the Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Critics Award for Best Foreign play since its London debut in 1997. Not a bad rsum for a non-linear production centered on only four characters, devoid of soap- opera drama, elaborate costuming or big-budget song numbers.

The same reason why the play “Closer” was so wildly successful is very much the same reason the film version turns out to be so impactful and heartbreaking-at its most basic and fundamental level, this is a story about human beings in love with themselves, one another and the destructive power of truth. It is a dissection of present-day romantic ideals, and it is completely unflinching in its willingness to use the truth as a blunt instrument to illustrate the juxtaposed tragedy and hope of modern relationships.

At the center of the story are Daniel, a failed-novelist/obituary journalist (played with charm and insecurity by Law), Alice, an American stripper who left New York for London “because of a male,” (played by Portman in the most intimate performance of her career), Harry, a compassionate but vindictive surgeon (played with poise by Owens) and Anna, a strong, intelligent photographer (played with typical grace by Roberts). Portman steals the show as the most vulnerable, yet strongest, of all the characters. In a departure from the innocence and naivety which was typical of her turn in “Garden State,” Portman’s Alice is both the bravest and most willingly lovesick of “Closer’s” characters, and Portman’s ability to endear herself-tragic flaws and all-to everyone she comes in contact with imbues Alice with a complex and haunting relateability that can be describes as nothing if not heart-wrenchingly human.

Though all the characters are markedly different from one another in terms of their personalities, they are all bound by their masochistic desire to know, and tell, the truth-regardless of the deep impact it may have on all those involved. While there are many instances in which lies would have been more compassionate and less destructive, every single character in “Closer” is utterly addicted to the truth, and though it invariably tears them apart and breaks them down, not a single character in the film can do anything but be totally, brutally honest, both with one another and the audience itself.

Movie-goers looking for a complete and linear plot structure will be disappointed with “Closer”-its plotline is really less of a line than a series of vivid and stark segments. The movie consists of the penultimate scenes from its characters relationships over the course of four years, jumping from one time period to another with nothing more to indicate change than a scene transition. However, far from being distracting from the central narrative structure of “Closer,” the film’s nontraditional portrayal of time helps bring its honesty to life. The decision not to concern itself with the mundane middle-ground was one that director Nichols decided upon because “In love, we remember beginnings and endings and tend to edit out the middles.” It is a true statement and one that resonates within the scope of “Closer’s” candid sincerity.

Much in the same way that the disjointed plot adds believability to the portrayal of the film’s characters, so too does the screenplay’s literary, not cinematic, tendencies add to the insight viewers are given to the meaning and value of “Closer.”

The focus of the screenplay is on the dialogue between characters, not on the dramatic action itself, which, while implied, is not always shown on screen. Like the best horror directors, Nichols understands that certain things are too disturbing to show, and much like the monster in a scary movie is most terrifying when never explicitly shown, Nichols allows the unspeakable trauma that befalls his characters to exist in the audience’s imagination rather than limiting its devastating power by pinning it down on screen. For a film so concerned with sexuality as currency and identity, there is not one explicit sex scene in “Closer” (although there are some very, very explicit conversations about it), and this decision to keep sex out of the visual spectrum makes “Closer” all the more disturbing.

In the end, individual response to “Closer” will vary wildly depending on everyone’s individual relationship with truth-those who are looking for honesty regardless of its potential dangers will love the film’s candid portrayals, while those who fear the truth’s ability to shatter illusions will likely be both terrified and put-off by “Closer’s” inability to tell any lies. However, when it comes right down to it, “Closer” is a film that, much like the truth it explores, cannot be ignored, regardless of how much anyone might desperately want to.

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