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Closer (2004)

If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 104 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15


Obituary writer and aspiring novelist Dan (Jude Law) and young American ex-stripper Alice (Natalie Portman) meet by chance on the street and fall in love. Some months later, Dan has written an erotic novel whose central character is based on Alice, now his girlfriend – but as soon as he meets the older American photographer Anna (Julia Roberts), who is shooting his image for the booksleeve, he falls in love again. Alice overhears their flirtation, and invites Anna to snap a portrait of her crying for a forthcoming exhibition. Impersonating Anna on an anonymous sex website, Dan unwittingly engineers a meeting between the real Anna and yet another stranger, the dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen), who then starts going out with her. Four months later, all four attend the opening of Anna’s exhibition, and a painful series of betrayals, rivalries and revelations is set in motion.

The love triangle has long been a staple of erotic drama, but ‘Closer’ offers filmgoers the less familiar geometry of the love square, with a plot that is decidedly circular, as, over a four-year period in ‘swinging’ London, its four characters exchange partners and rôles, before ending up more or less where they started. The film is the screenwriting debut of Patrick Marber, based on his own multi-award winning 1997 play, and is directed by old hand Mike Nichols, who from ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ (1966) to TV’s recent Angels in America (2003) has always shown a great sensitivity to theatrical adaptations – and even if the film’s stage origins are reflected in its very small cast and its succession of two-person scenes, this brings an uncluttered intensity to its drama, as does the unconventional chronology, skipping rapidly from a relationship’s exhilarating start to its agonising end with no concern for all that comes in between. For this is the central paradox of ‘Closer’, encapsulated in its ambiguous title: that intimacy can both bring strangers closer, and bring relationships to a close, as partners give away too much, or not enough, of themselves.

‘Closer’ anatomises relationships and the sexes with a brutally honest precision, leaving little room for optimism, and needless to say it is a film best avoided on a first date (let alone on the night of an intended break-up). Its grimness, nonetheless, is leavened by the wit, however cruel, of the dialogue – and by the extraordinary performances of all four players, who navigate emotional extremes with apparent ease. The headlining stars Julia Roberts and Jude Law already have significant reputations, but ‘Closer’ represents Natalie Portman’s and Clive Owen’s finest hour (and three quarters).

A smart, biting and modern treatment of classic themes.

It's Got: Four outstanding performances (including Clive Owens and Natalie Portmans finest to date); sharp dialogue; a breathless chronology measured in career advances, smoking habits and hairstyles; jealousy, guilt, retribution; and an intimate intensity.

It Needs: To be avoided on first dates.

DVD Extras No Extras DVD Extras Rating: 0/10


Intimacy both attracts and repels in this smart, modern and biting treatment of love's endless merry-go-round.