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Closer
Review written by: Alex Sandell

It's around this time of year, when the weather outside is frightful, but suicide seems delightful, that I've had it up to my eyeballs with family films, created by committee and starring people like Ben Affleck and Tim Allen.  By November, "PG" and "PG-13" are curse words, more than a system of rating films.  Call me a Grinch, if you'd like, but why can't there be room for both adult films and films for the tweens, during the holiday season?  Multiplexes now have an average of 788 screens a piece, which makes a person wonder why over half of those screens are playing Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and the other 394 screens are divided between The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and Christmas with the Kranks

That's not to say that all PG rated films are cotton-candy crap for the masses.  When a PG or PG-13 movie gets it right, they're usually the best sort of films out there.  But the fact remains that there are hundreds of millions of people too old to be a part of the target demographic catered to by Hillary Duff's music and movies.  These people are being left out in the cold.  There are films playing in limited release, usually in New York and L.A.  Where does that leave those of us in the Midwest (you've probably heard our states mentioned on Rush Limbaugh's show), with open minds and open wallets?   Please, cinema gods, don't make us sit through Fat Albert, when we want to see Kinsey

Occasionally the same movies that graced the coasts work their way inland.  Whenever Quentin Tarantino releases a pic, we get it.  Hell, if the guy attaches his name to a subtitled samurai film, small town theaters will pick it up.  And now, thanks to a cast with names trendy enough for farmers to recognize, such as Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen (okay, maybe not Clive Owen), prominent director, Mike Nichols has managed to get his movie to play in the "flyover" states.  While not perfect, Nichols has directed a film that no one under 17 should see.  And it's playing at a theater near you!

The movie's called Closer.  It puts adult actors in adult relationships and is rated R, meaning that the adult characters use language that adults in real life use (when they're not around their evangelical friends).  They do things that adults in real life do (have sex, visit strip clubs, abuse each other, scream, yell, lie, cheat, manipulate and generally behave like the cast of Sex and the City -- only without Sarah Jessica Parker's annoying narration and obnoxious shoe fetish).  Okay, so maybe adults aren't all they're cracked up to be, but I'd give my left nut just to sit in a theater and watch grown up material aimed solely at a crowd too old to have heard of Bratz dolls or Britney Barbie, rather than stare in disbelief at another film featuring Lindsay Lohan lip-synching to an awful song, while dressed like Avril Lavigne.            

Closer is akin to one of Woody Allen's serious films, such as Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives.  Dan (Jude Law) falls in love with Alice (Natalie Portman), before falling for Anna (Julia Roberts), who he hooks up with Larry (Clive Owen), through a hilarious cybersex scene.  Dan is the player of the bunch.  He doesn't seem content to stay with the same girl for more than a few months.  Larry seems like the nicest guy, but if you cross him he turns into a monster.  Anna can't make up her mind and usually ends up leaving behind the things that make her happy.  Larry says this is because she's a depressive.  Alice seems the most open about things, but she has secrets of her own and is in no way an innocent.  To put it simply:  these four deserve each other. 

Anna and Dan is definitely the eye of this sexual hurricane.  Alice seems more than willing to give it her all to stay with Dan.  Larry would do anything to stay with Anna (despite his indiscretion with a whore).  Alice, played up as the innocent throughout most of the film, even when she's performing a ridiculous strip tease for Larry (which elicited a few hushed chuckles out of the audience), is the only character that you feel sorry for throughout.  Due to the general horniness factor of humans, most of us have made mistakes in love, so you can't hate any of these people, but there are plenty of times when you wouldn't care if any one of them would spontaneously combust.

By the time the film comes to a close, I ended up feeling the saddest for Dan.  Although he's the biggest player in the film, he also goes through the most pain.  His character is confused, with almost no sense of self-importance, a failed writing career and an obsessive need for others to tell him the truth, even when he's busy building up his own wall of privacy, which he hopes no one can penetrate.  He's so determined to find out if he's been deceived, that he becomes a pathetic character.  There are times throughout the movie where he tries to live up to the high standards he holds his partners up to, but he always falls short.  It becomes obvious, early on, that his inability to trust will be his unraveling.

Mike Nichols, as he has so many times before, all the way back to the late 1960s, with classic movies like The Graduate, has brought complex character studies to screen; ones that can't easily be summed up in a couple of paragraphs.  These films rarely have a satisfactory resolution.  The most recent example of this, prior to Closer, was the miniseries he directed for HBO, Angels in America.  Mike Nichols creates movies for actors.  There isn't much fancy camera work or big special effects.  The actors paint out his tales of sexual depravity, miscommunication and shattered dreams.  He trusts them to bring to life the hundreds of emotions cluttering up his twisted mind.  For the most part, the performers in Closer don't disappoint.     

The standout of the film is Natalie Portman.  Rather than gradually growing up on film, Natalie has done it all in one picture.  This is not the chick from Star Wars.  This is no longer the wide-eyed girl from The Professional.  Natalie Portman is now an adult actress.  I highly doubt we'll be seeing her lip-synching to awful songs, any time soon.  Jude Law does a sufficient job as the man pulled between high ethical standards and the most obscene behavior.  Clive Owen, another stand out actor in the picture, successfully goes from being the kindest of gentlemen to an intimidating, manipulative bastard -- all in the blink of an eye.  The only actor that didn't do much for me was Julia Roberts.  Each time Roberts tries to remind us that she can act, she does just the opposite.  She's definitely a passable actress in this picture, but she doesn't add up to her three co-stars. 

The biggest problem in the film is Patrick Marber's script (based on his play); he mucks it up by regularly leaping forward in time, without warning.  I suppose subtitles at the bottom of the screen reading, "4 months later," "1 year later" would have grown tiresome, but there are times in the film where you have to struggle to keep up with what time it is.  That minor quibble aside, Mr. Nichols, with Mr. Marber's help, has quite possibly created the ultimate "sex as revenge" flick.  And, at least after being bombarded with Christmas-y junk for the past few months, I'd take a "sex as revenge" tale over the story of a bunch of creepy Computer Generated kids held hostage on a train headed for the North Pole, to find the true meaning of Christmas, any day.

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

RECENT REVIEWS (click here to see ALL films reviewed in the last three months):

Meet the Fockers
Spanglish
Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events
Blade: Trinity
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Finding Neverland
The Incredibles
After the Sunset
Saw
The Grudge
The Final Cut
Shark Tale

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8

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COMING SOON - Reviews of The Aviator, The Phantom of the Opera and, just because it's been requested more than ANY other movie yet to be reviewed on this site, Hellboy (so who says I don't listen to my readers?)!

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