Despite good performances from each of the four leads, Closer feels a bit too self-important for its own good. This is a trip back into nastiness by director Mike Nichols (Primary Colors, What Planet Are You From?), and Patrick Marber, who adapted his own play. There are no 'good' people in Closer, and the movie boils down to a series of incisive arguments. This is not a battle between the sexes, it is all-out war. The film makes an interesting transition from the stage to the screen by focusing on the reactions, not the actions of the four people. So instead of seeing two people cheating on each other, Nichols shows the arguments that result from the actions.

Dan (Jude Law, Alfie, Sky Captain) is an obituary writer who is dating Alice (Natalie Portman, Garden State, Cold Mountain), a New York expatriate and ex-stripper. Anna (Julia Roberts, Mona Lisa Smile, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), a photographer, catches Dan's eye, but she is involved with Larry (Clive Owen, King Arthur, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead). While the premise sounds simple, things get a lot more complicated. The story jumps ahead often, sometimes a year in time. Two people together one minute will be apart the next, debating about what happened or what may happen.

Technically, this is a good film. The story makes perfect sense, and the acting is spot on, especially for Portman and Owen. This is Portman's most mature role to date, and it establishes her as a viable adult actor. It's a great complement to her role in Garden State, and oddly enough, similar. Both films portray her as a free spirit/damaged soul, and coincidentally, she has her first real conversation with her beau in a hospital. For Owen (who played Dan in the original stage production), it is a role that utilizes his understatedness. He is typically so unanimated as to seem ultra cool or boring. Nichols adds the element of rage, and when Larry is pissed he looks dangerous. The happy moments of Larry's character are the most animated Owen has ever been on film. Closer also has Roberts and Law going against type. Law is whiny and worse, wimpy (he frequently calls himself a coward), while Roberts is plain nasty.

There are some bon mots in the verbal sparring, but it all tends to run together. Nichols succeeds in maintaining a bleak mood for the duration of the film. Everybody has extremely bad qualities, and due to all their actions towards each other, there really is nobody deserving of sympathy. They knowingly betray each other and play mind games with their significant others, ignoring any repercussions of their actions. Looking at relationships through the eyes of these four people is pretty depressing. It's interesting for a while, then gets repetitive. To compensate, Nichols ups the ante, continually having the couplings switch, and in the end, it happens a few times too many.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language.

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