Closer [2004/I]

Four extremely beautiful people do extremely horrible things to one another in Closer, Mike Nichols' pungent adaptation of Patrick Marber's play that easily marks the Oscar-winning director's best work in years. Anna (Julia Roberts) is a photographer who specializes in portraits of strangers; Dan (Jude Law) is an obituary writer struggling to become a novelist; Alice (Natalie Portman) is an American stripper freshly arrived in London after a bad relationship; and Larry (Clive Owen) is a dermatologist who finds love under the most unlikely of circumstances. When their paths cross it's a dizzying supernova of emotions, as Nichols and Marber adroitly construct various scenes out of their lives that pair them again and again in various permutations of passion, heartbreak, anger, sadness, vengeance, pleading, deception, and most importantly, brutal honesty. It's only until you're more than halfway through the movie that you'll have to ask yourself exactly why you are watching such a beautifully tragic tale, as Closer is basically the ickiest, grossest, most dysfunctional parts of all your past relationships strung together into one movie. Ultimately, it falls to the four actors to draw you deeper into the story; all succeed relatively, but it's Law and Owen whose characters will cut you to the quick. Law proves that yet again he's most adept at playing charming, amoral bastards with manipulative streaks, and Owen is nothing short of brilliant as the character most turned on by the energy inherent in destructive relationships--whether he's on the giving or receiving end. --Mark Englehart

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