4 stars


22nd June 2005

Four painfully attractive people meet each other and proceed to jump into each other's beds like an inter-continental gang bang - on paper, Closer sounds awful, like one of those British films starring a Fiennes brother where you want each and every person involved to suffer a horrible and torturous death. However, on film, Closer is a resounding success. Why? Because Patrick Marber's uncompromising and devastatingly honest script captures what few other similar films can - the downright misery and deception that relationships can cause, how they can bring out the absolute worst in people and just how damaging infidelity can be. And if all that sounds a little depressing, bear in mind it always helps to have Natalie Portman half-naked in your movie.

Dan (Jude Law) meets American stripper Alice (Portman) after a road accident, and the two hit it off immediately, him infatuated with her openness, her fascinated with his bookishness and British reserve. Fast-forward an undisclosed period of time to Dan's first encounter with photographer Anna (Julia Roberts). Now arrogant and self-satisfied, Dan entices her to share a kiss before Alice arrives, somewhat spoiling the atmosphere. Rather upset that his love for Anna is unrequited, he logs on to a sex website under her name and begins winding up a fellow user, which is where we say hello to horny dermatologist (surely a Googlewhack there) Larry, played to desperate perfection by Clive Owen. Larry is duped into a meeting at the London Aquarium with his 'cum hungry bitch' but is inadvertently introduced to the real Anna and the pair start to date (even though revealing yourself to be 'The Sultan of Twat' isn't exactly the perfect opener). Let the guilty fucks begin!

Adapted from the play by Patrick Marber - yes, that Patrick Marber aka Peter O'Hanrahahanrahan, the inept Day Today newsreader - the movie maintains the acerbic script and barbed confrontations that made the stage performance so successful. Thankfully, most of the admittedly foul-mouthed back and forths made it into the final cut, which makes Closer a very adult affair indeed - for example, when Larry eventually manages to coerce Anna's extra-marital affair with Dan from her, the screen is lit up with blue language, Owen spitting his dialogue with a vigour I've not seen from him before ("fuck off and die, you fucked up slag" for example). It's not just swearing for the sake of swearing either, Marber's script never feels like it has any cracks to paper over with cusses. It's nice to finally have a movie about relationships that cuts the bullshit and doesn't bandy around the term 'love' like it's some all-conquering emotion that glues couples together and tears them apart. It's a film about sex and its consequences, but never uses sex as titillation, only as the driving force on the road to ruin. Man, I've never sounded more twisted or bitter.

Clive Owen is an absolute revelation in this movie. Before I've only seen him in dodgy ITV dramas and BMW adverts, but after this I can totally see why people want him to be the next Bond - cursing, drinking, yelling at strippers and generally being a sarcastic son of a bitch, looks like Brosnan's time is up. In his scene with Alice at her strip joint, he darts from one emotion to the next with gay abandon, turning from the infatuated admirer to the spurned lover to the broken-down loser to the callous, heartless bastard we all hoped he'd turn into. Next to Owen, Law was always going to look second-class, but he suits his character down to the ground - he transforms from an arrogant twat into a snivelling, snide loser who can't figure out why his women keep leaving him. Watching him get berated by a smug Owen while he stands dejected and rain-sodden in his office is a personal highlight of 2005 for me.

Natalie Portman needs to do more work like this and stop wasting time drooling out the slobbering turds of George Lucas's dialogue - like her earlier turn in Garden State, here she shows genuine warmth and intelligence and is never less anything less than utterly adorable. And the stripping scene? Let's just say that it was another personal highlight of 2005, but for altogether different reasons. Julia Roberts does her best but her character is the most reserved of the quartet, a woman who "doesn't kiss strange men" but somehow ends up having a yearlong affair with a man she hardly knows. Nonetheless, there's no American pretension on her part and for one of the most high-profile actresses on the planet to slip in to a production like this so silently is probably a plus on her part.

Closer might have caught your eye due to its star-studded cast, and granted it stands tall because of a few towering central performances, but it's Marber's excellent screenplay and involvement that gives it its real backbone. It's a story about relationships for adults that doesn't pull its punches or patronise with easy answers. Just don't take your girlfriend to see it.

Extras Now come on Sony, this is horseshit. A few trailers and a Damien Rice video? The same Damien Rice song that you've just listened to over the closing credits? What a crock. Even the trailer for the movie on the disc shows that there were scenes that didn't make the final cut, so what gives? Looks like someone wants to keep those deleted Natalie Portman stripping scenes to themselves.

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