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Closer (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Damien Rice music video.

SEX and Hollywood frequently make for awkward, if prudish, bed-fellows, so it's immediately refreshing to find a film as frank and graphic as Closer, which dares to have the courage of its convictions.

Adapted from his own play by Patrick Marber, the film is directed by Mike Nichols and centres around the love lives of two couples whose aggressive sexual appetites threaten to consume each other.

Yet rather than being physically explicit, the film is verbally so, refusing to spare any blushes as its central protagonists candidly discuss what they would like (or have done) to each other.

As such, it might bore anyone seeking out cheap thrills, preferring instead to stimulate the intellect rather than any other part of the anatomy.

The foursome in question are played by Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, each of whom deliver some of their finest performances in a long while.

The film kicks off as Law's obituaries columnist and aspiring novelist, Dan, meets charismatic dancer, Alice (Portman), on a London street.

The two clearly have chemistry and quickly become an item, only for Dan to fall for the charms of a recently-divorced photographer, Anna (Roberts), who encourages and then spurns his advances.

 

Seeking playful revenge, Dan then manipulates a complete stranger - Owen's randy dermatologist, Larry - into meeting with Anna, only to become an unwitting match-maker.

But as the couples begin to interact with each other, and their sexual passions take over, the film gleefully exposes how poorly people can treat each other when being led by desire instead of reason.

Needless to say, couples fall apart and sleep with each other, before the repurcussions of their games prompt the inevitable heartbreak.

Much of the sexual activity is relayed via conversaion (save for the odd stripper sequence), yet still manages to surprise by its sheer audacity.

An internet conversation early on (which became a favourite part of the theatrical run) sets the tone for what to expect, while arguments between couples are frequently brutally honest and explicitly frank.

But it's good to find a film that is willing to treat its viewers as adults, while also refusing to provide any easy answers.

As a result, none of the central performers is particularly likeable, making it difficult to elicit much sympathy for their plight.

But that's not to detract from the quality of the portrayals, especially Owen and Portman who emerge as the true stars of the show.

Nichols, too, is on fine directing form, proving that he has lost none of his relish for dealing with the battle of the sexes (he also directed Carnal Knowledge and The Graduate).

His film is therefore an actors' piece which, while undoubtedly cold and cynical in its depiction of 'love', certainly ought to stimulate some fiery debate afterwards, making it an early must-see for cinema audiences.

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