Directed by Mike Nichols, who's been exploring disfunctional relationships since Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? and The Graduate, Closer is a gritty, relentless look at four people and their relationships with each other. It's twisted, it's very hard to watch at times (I for one was reminded of fights I've had, the nasty things that lovers can say and do to each other), and it doesn't hold back.
Apart from the harsh reality of it, the only negative is that it's based on a stage play, and that's obvious very early on. You can always tell when something's based on a play: the words are more important than the scenery. Bell Book and Candle, Desk Set, The Shape of Things, anything by Neil Simon...you can tell. Not that it's a bad thing, but in general there does tend to be a forced quality to the dialogue, and everything becomes a speech.
It is interesting to see Julia Roberts as a not-so-nice person for a change. Jude Law is almost typecast as yet another cad, and Natalie Portman is doing just the opposite. Clive Owen, who reprises his role from the play, rounds out this foursome, joining us last in a rather amusing internet chat scene (one of the better-done ones I've seen in a film). Apart from a very few other people, these four are the only ones onscreen in various combinations, for an hour and forty minutes. And in that time, these characters go from lovable to hateful and back again. They're none of them perfect, but they're not entirely flawed.
It's hard to watch...but it's also hard to look away.
(Movie update: As of this weekend, I've seen 84 movies in theatres. Last year, this time, I'd seen 80; the total for 2003 was 87. I should be able to surpass last year's record, barring anything cataclysmic, but not by much...I guess 2005 will be the year to break 100.)