Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
Aman (Law) and a woman (Portman) exchange flirtatious glances while strolling down a London street in Closer's opening scene. On the soundtrack, Irish songsmith Damien Rice croons the seemingly mushy lyric, "I can't take my eyes off of you." When the song plays again near the end of this scalding tale of love and betrayal, the phrase has lost its dewy innocence and instead suggests a jealous lover's fear that a sweetheart will stray, or the yearning hurt of a partner who has been dumped. Ambiguity and ambivalence are at the bruised heart of this well-acted film.
Closer examines the perilous state of love today as practiced by sleek urban sophisticates. With perspicacity, cutting humor and a generous helping of movie-star glamor, it follows the relationship merry-go-round of two American women and two Englishmen, all living in London. Dan (Law), a journalist, first falls for Alice (Portman), a waifish former stripper. He later hits on Anna (Roberts), a soon-to-be-divorced photographer. Though Anna pines for Dan, she pairs up with Larry (Owen, the real sexiest man alive to my way of thinking), a dermatologist. Because most everyone here takes love as a license to behave badly, hurtful complications ensue.
Closer makes a viewer uncomfortable. Screenwriter Patrick Marber (adapting his 1997 play of the same title) and director Mike Nichols (Angels in America) obviously have no interest in telling a reassuring, cozy story, and more power to 'em for it. Although all four cast members deserve praise, the film's high point, for acting and emotional brutality, is a wrenching scene in which Larry presses an adulterous Anna for the sexual specifics of her infidelity. (Where? How? Was it good?) Owen and Roberts play the heck out of it, leaving their characters and the audience drained. After that, the remaining scenes seem almost anticlimactic. (R)