I’d avoided this with suspicion for some years. The poster and the reviews just made it seem a bit turgid and self-consciously edgy. I would have never seen it had it not been strongly recommended by a friend and I really enjoyed it. This kind of film never usually appeals to me- the number of times I’ve been disappointed by the likes of Carnal Knowledge or Sex, Lies and Videotape I can’t count- and I’d come to the conclusion that I just don’t do mature adult drama very well. This was an exception.
That’s not to say I liked everything about it- it was, as I feared, deliberately provocative (I’ve no problem with people saying “cunt” except when it sounds false or forced) and I found the tangled relationships a bit far-fetched. I wondered if these were the only four people in London because they were eminently unsuited to one another and blind to the existence of anyone else. But that just requires a bit of disbelief-suspension and I’m happy to do that.
What Closer really has going for it, though, are some powerhouse performances. Clive Owen who I’ve liked since he was in Chancer is extremely good in this. And, perhaps even more importantly, his pretty face is looking more and more into a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel with an ever-expanding nose on the front of it- which makes me feel a bit better about my rapidly disintegrating visage. Brad Pitt and his ageless beauty can fuck off. Natalie Portman is, if anything, even better as the wounded, vulnerable Alice. Jude Law does his usual ‘stop mid-sentence with mouth gaping open and teary-eyed thousand yard stare’ thing, but that’s great because it suits the character and Julia Roberts comes in fourth with an earnest attempt that is good but never great. I have to confess a little bias here, I really dislike Julia Roberts- I absolutely hated Pretty Woman, obviously, and have hated her in pretty much everything else I’ve seen possibly in reaction to that. Oh, I just remembered I quite liked her in Charlie Wilson’s War and maybe that and this indicate that I’m warming to her as she ages. She still looks like a stretched Chief Wiggum, though, and that’s all there is to it.
I also like the concept- though I feel this was probably better achieved by the stage play upon which the film is based- of an unbiased and unsympathetic view of the pivotal moments in a relationship with everything else removed. I just think Mike Nicholls (and who am I to criticise the bloke who made The Graduate anyway?) might have achieved that better with more intimate framing, than less. Almost every indoor shot is opened out to take in the whole room, the settings emphasise this- huge stairwell landings, a mezzanine apartment etc. Maybe they were supposed to look small and intimate in context? Either way, it didn’t work for me.
My final gripe- for a film I liked there somehow are an awful lot of gripes- is the closing scene with Natalie Portman bouncing down a New York pavement in slow motion being ogled by passers by. It doesn’t work- does it say her attractiveness remains, that her future is full of possibilities? It says neither to me, it says she considers herself to be a piece of meat. Most uncharacteristic for me that. Unless- and this is a massive stretch of credibility for me- she considers herself to be that all through the film, hence her using a pseudonym for the scenes with Dan where he treats her well, and her real name as a stripper. The happiness is a front and the seedier side is how she sees herself. It’s a stretch but I’m convincing myself- she sees herself as an object and when Dan sees her like that near the end, the spell is broken and she leaves him. Hence the reversal of the film’s opening- instead of fleeing man-trouble in NY she’s fleeing man-trouble to NY.
Yep, I’ve convinced myself. A much better film than I was expecting- cleverer by far. I bet the play is a belter. 6/10