ninth symphony films - movie reviews

CLOSER (2004)

DIRECTOR  -  mike nichols

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  98 minutes

RELEASED  -  18 june 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  columbia pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  closer

closer - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from closer at

buy the dvd from closer at

set in contemporary london, this is the story of four strangers, their chance meetings, instant attractions and casual betrayals.

clive owen played the role of dan in the original stage production.


picture from closer

picture from closer

picture from closer

picture from closer


two out of four possible stars

Despite a valiant effort by its accomplished cast, the melodramatic emotions swirling around the tortured characters of Closer fail to ignite sufficient interest in their varied, put-upon circumstances. Although the script possesses true moments of genius, those favorable interchanges are usually burdened with far too much talk and too few moments of characters "doing" anything else than talk. This is the sort of picture one would assume would include several dialogue-heavy interchanges, but screenwriter Patrick Marber (who also wrote the play) holds on for just a few lines too long in too many of the conversations.

Although the film approaches two hours, there are nevertheless very few scenes in the actual film. Just when the audience would seem sated by the character interaction on the screen, Marber puts at least two to five minutes of rather extemporaneous material onto the end of it. This wordiness could have easily been remedied by a more conscious editor, but editors John Bloom and Antonia van Drimmelen look to have focused more on how the story was told rather than on what the characters were going on about.

It might reflect badly on the actors that they are not able to handle the lengthy scenes, but the interest of the audience may be sorely tested by the one-track mind of the plot. Where the editors excel however, is in the method chosen to present the plot. Taking place over the course of about four years, the timeline jumps several times in increments of six-plus months. The events and details of the characters' lives that have occurred in the time passed over are easily and naturally inserted into the dialogue.

Ironically, this insertion of pure plot into the dialogue (which might, in another film, cause the audience to find the dialogue pedantic or repetitive) propels the story ahead at a fantastic rate, thereby lessening the difficulty one might have with the longer than average scenes. Disguising "back story" or things that have happened in the past with necessary dialogue is difficult for the screenwriter, but in Closer, Marber's dialogue and the editors' method of storytelling is usually sufficient to mask any blatant exposition.

Regarding the "star power" present in the film, the most impressive member of the cast is Natalie Portman. Although she portrays a very young woman in the film, her approach to the character is a more sophisticated on than have been her most recent efforts. Although audiences glimpsed her dramatic potential in her small yet demanding role in Cold Mountain, beyond that performance, she hasn't had the fortune of a break-out role for several years. With Closer on her resume, critics will no longer be able to claim that she seems to play the same person in every film.

Her high-profile co-star also makes a solid appearance, though Julia Roberts' character is not as intense or malleable as is Portman's. Perhaps it was the nature of the character or maybe it's just Julia Roberts' style of performance, but most of what her character in the film, "Alice," does is related to looking depressed and unsure. Simply stated, hers is probably the most static performance in the film.

Jude Law is more successful in garnering a more three-dimensional character arc and in playing Portman's girlfriend and Roberts' lover, he shows and incredible weakness and vulnerability. But though this dynamic range gives his character an impressive weight, "Dan" is not as sympathetic as he might have been if he hadn't been forced to emotionally stumble quite so much in his long scenes. This film very definitely crosses the line into melodramatic territory and more often than not, the swirling emotions surrounding every single character prove to be too soggy for the casual viewer.

Not to mention the fact that none of the characters is more than mildly likeable. Not that having a bubbly, loving protagonist is a necessary prerequisite for an engaging film, but it's too often that Closer is filled to the brim with antagonists and nary a sympathetic personality in sight. Clive Owen, who completes this odd quadrangle of mis-matched lovers is probably the character who runs the most impressive gamut from likeable to hated. His character, like the rest of the personalities in the film, will probably garner little audience sympathy by the time the closing credits roll.

The machinations engaged upon by this tortured set of characters is interesting to behold, but viewers might find themselves wondering where exactly the "film" in the film is. Not all theatrical plays prove suitable for feature film adaptation, and when a play is brought to the screen, certain changes and concessions must be made regarding presentation and dialogue. Though viewers might find themselves interested by the sly utterances of dialogue and the quickly delivered quips offered by Jude Law's character, at the end of the film, there is little to recommend of each character.

It's as if the screenwriter started and ended somewhere in the middle of the story and ended it in the middle of the action, deciding to stick the audience with an unsatisfying ending. Despite the luminous Natalie Portman swaying off into the sunset, courtesy of some slow motion camera techniques, the end of the film leaves the viewers in what can only be described as a, "lurch." And with any affability from the characters almost entirely absent, one can only wonder if this is an emotional journey worth devoting two hours (well, ninety-eight minutes) to.

The intense performances are solid and even engrossing at times and the film boasts excellent production values, including a well done soundtrack and expressive (though certainly not intrusive) score. But a well-made film does not automatically turn a film into something worth watching. People don't go to films to see a few entertaining one-liners or catchy turns of phrase. Nor do they go simply because the cinematography is eye-catching. In allowing his characters to prattle on for far more than was necessary, director Mike Nichols fails to grab the heart of even the most willing viewers. It doesn't take long for the characters to fall in love, start to hate one another, or repair their relationships, and it simply takes too long and too much effort for them to work through those feelings.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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