"Closer" opens with a scene of Natalie Portman getting struck by a car on the streets of London, and Jude Law rushing to her aid. It's similar to the video for that ubiquitous Hoobastank song about a guy, confronted with the thought of losing the girl, realizing he loves her.
It takes Law's character, failed novelist (read: obituary clerk) Dan, a bit longer than four minutes to reach the same conclusion.
After a sweetly romantic sequence of Dan caring for Alice (Portman) in a hospital waiting room, "Closer" jumps forward to find Dan flirting with Anna (Julia Roberts), who is photographing him for his would-be hit novel.
It's a jarring jump, partly because it's hard to imagine any red-blooded male wanting to be free of Portman (even playing a stripper, she's adorable), but also because after drawing us in, the movie does a 180 and reveals the twisted reality of its four ethically challenged but -- give them credit -- honest characters.
If you go
When: Now playing
Where: Movies 10 at Westgate in Baxter
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
Written by: Patrick Marber
Director: Mike Nichols
Directed by Mike Nichols, "Closer" is simultaneously more complex and more simple than other romance films (it should be filed under "dark comedy" when it hits the video store, but it won't be). While 99 percent of genre films are affairs of the heart (with Portman's "Garden State" being my favorite), "Closer" is an intellectual exercise.
Although screenwriter Patrick Marber, adapting his play, opens things up a bit with a variety of London settings, this film is essentially one of those "four people standing around talking" exercises like "Hurlyburly" or "The Breakfast Club." In "Closer," however, the characters always converse in pairs, with the solitary moments of deception and doubt taking place off screen.
Most talky screenplays try to be subtle and set the stage for big revelations to play out, but "Closer" is decidedly blunt. We don't have to decipher what Dan, Anna, Alice and doctor Larry (Clive Owen) are feeling or thinking or doing because they tell each other. In graphic detail.
In one sequence, Anna tells husband Larry she has been cheating on him for a year with Dan. Larry inquires about the specifics of Anna's and Dan's sexual liaisons. (Sensitive viewers be warned: Although Roberts is in this movie, "Closer" is not by any means a "Julia Roberts movie.") Scenes such as this are not a likely portrayal of human behavior, but they certainly cut to the chase. At one point Larry notes that the human heart resembles a fist covered in blood.
That's not to say the characters are completely cold. Crucial to the film's watchability, they have feelings; they may break up with each other in blunt fashion, but they seem to feel bad about it. "Closer" is like an arthouse "Cruel Intentions," with relationship predators who are older and wiser but not necessarily better people.
So even if you enjoy "Closer," you might want to take a shower afterward. And then watch "Garden State" 99 times.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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