Review Date: 12.21.05
Local film critics haven't been kind to Mike Nichols' latest effort, "Closer". But I'm in strong disagreement with my colleagues on this one.
I loved "Closer". It features four of the best performances I've seen this year. It's brilliantly written, and very deftly directed. Let's see: terrific acting, great writing, smart direction. How much more could one want from a movie? Perhaps the most obvious answer would be - attractive content.
And on that issue, I yield. This film is a portrait of four fascinating personalities, only one of whom would register positively on most folks' moral barometer. And it requires a close reading of even this character to arrive at that conclusion.
"Closer" was adapted for the screen by Patrick Marber, from his play of the same name. The story unfolds over about five years. With very minor exceptions, there are no ancillary characters. The entire film consists of exchanges between shifting pairs of the four protagonists. The conversations range from playful to painfully confrontational. This may sound very much like a play, but it doesn't have the feel of one.
Perhaps it's the acoustics of a theatre that requires a certain stylization on the part of actors. But film is different, and Nichols insists on naturalistic deliveries. Unlike a David Mamet play transposed to the screen, where the dialogue, however brilliant, seems slightly off the rhythms of everyday speech, the characters in "Closer" feel excruciatingly real. True, the odds are against finding, in real life, a quartet of characters as interesting as Marber's. But the verbally well endowed do tend to keep company, so I can't fault the film on that basis. On the contrary, it's one of the film's great strengths.
In case you've missed the earlier reviews of "Closer", let me briefly outline the story:
The film opens with the camera on a young woman who calls herself "Alice". She's just arrived in London, from New York, on what she calls "an expedition". Alice catches the eye of Dan, a slightly worn down young man who earns a living by writing obituaries, but who yearns to be a novelist. Alice fails to "look right" at an intersection and is promptly knocked to the pavement by a cab. Dan rushes to the rescue. Alice, unconscious for about ten seconds, comes to, looks up at Dan and says: hello stranger.
Those words suggest the challenge with which each character will struggle throughout the film, which is: how does one become not a stranger and not estranged, but a trusted companion. How does one get 'closer'.
The other two characters are Larry, a dermatologist, and Anna, a portrait photographer. Their professions are concerned with surfaces. Alice, I neglected to mention, is a waitress and a stripper. Her patrons may see her surface, but will likely fail to plumb her depth.
Alice, Dan, Anna and Larry. Alliances are made, broken and possibly repaired. Who ends up alone, and who together? What lessons are learned?
This is a film for adults about adults, deeply flawed adults. It's rare to find such intelligent dialogue in the movies these days, though much of it is raw and some of it is ferocious. "Closer" is not a feel-good movie. You won't like some of the characters. We're not supposed to. Deceit is not a noble virtue. Nor, sometimes, is the truth.
Each of the four actors deserves award nominations, as do the writer and the director. In my book, "Closer" is easily one of the best movies of the year.
For KUSP's Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.