After an accident in the streets of London throws Natalie Portman and Jude Law together, they begin a relationship. The end.
Relationships are complicated, occasionally messy, and sometimes as foulmouthed as this.
Patrick Marber adapted this from his own stage play, and you can tell. It has the structure of a stage play which means the passage of time isn’t always clear and it doesn’t flow in the same way a story designed for film would. For what it’s worth I have nothing against stage productions, it’s just that what works on the stage isn’t necessarily something that works in film.
Now, that’s not to say that Closer doesn’t work as a film, because it does – just about. It has that stage play setup to it which I’ve never been massively keen on. Better to make a complete break away from the format of the play and make it work in a cinematic context.
While the setup and interactions between the characters feels a little contrived as a result of this, it’s carried by deep themes and some excellent performances. We’re linked to four people, played by Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, and we watch as the character’s lives interact and run across one another.
Each of them in their own way is broken or damaged. Clive Owen’s Larry seems the most clear cut of the four, all of his decisions being made because he’s a caveman, defined by his primeval urges. This is in spite of his prominent position as a dermatologist. But at least he’s honest. Then there is Jude Law’s Dan, a manipulative man who has the outward appearance of a caring man but behind closed doors he is planning on sleeping with as many women as possible. He’s emotionally shallow, further defined by his work as an obituary writer with no career prospects (oh, the irony). He pales in comparison to caveman Larry, but in many respects they represent two sides of the same coin. Batman’s Harvey Dent literally split into two people.
On the lady’s side of the table we start with Natalie Portman’s Alice, a needy, clingy sort of woman – or at least, that is how she portrays herself. There’s likely much more to her than meets the eye. And no, she isn’t a Transformer.
Finally there is Julia Roberts as photographer Anna. She’s less outwardly emotional than any of the others, and I would argue less well developed than the other three characters. Or it could be that her lack of emotional output makes her stand out less amongst the quartet.
Truth and honesty are the themes at play, or the lack thereof. The key to any successful relationship is trust, which none of these four really show. The only exception is Larry – he’s flawed but at least he admits to them openly. Where Closer falls flat is in its narrative. It’s occasionally too complex for its own good and the relationship switches didn’t work for me. But then, I’ve never been in that situation. If I had, I certainly wouldn’t have gone about it the way these four do – you have to know when getting out is a good idea.