Love and lies are what makes the world go round in CLOSER, Director Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the award-winning stage play that dips into precarious corners of romance among its four characters who are driven of passion, jealousy, and deceit. The film is teeming of discourse and introspection on its central idea – love plagued by infidelity and dishonesty that are eloquently conveyed in the modern-day setting. It explores the dynamics of its beguiling quartet through the permutation of impassioned pairs, contesting over their notions of love and relationships. The intriguing premise around its striking ensemble may have drawn viewers closer, but the quarter of the whole is more satisfying than the overall. For all its grand romantic rhetoric, CLOSER is more of a collection of vain abstractions than an empathic character study. The passion is palpable but impersonal, thus not transcending to where the medium intends it to be.
No matter how personal its themes are, CLOSER tends to feel aloof. Maybe because of how imposing yet unambiguous its proposition is. How untruthfulness can destroy relationships is the universal truth after all, but the film attempts to overcomplicate itself that the tension doesn’t feel organic anymore (that could spell the difference in effectiveness between on stage and onscreen). The experimental couplings don’t necessarily achieve the desired compelling results but two actors in particular are revealing that they upstage the other two. Natalie Portman in her surprisingly provocative demeanor (before Black Swan) and Clive Owen in a commanding supporting role (both were Oscar-nominated) brought their characters’ passion as close as it can get to the audience. The actors may have stood as prop for the film’s subject matter but Portman and Owen are more affectingly flawed than Julia Roberts and Jude Law. It’s not their fault anyway, as the romantic drama is weighed down by imbalance that favors its contrived emotional milieu than the essence of its characters.
Though CLOSER is more engrossed in idea than the persona, it is articulate on the pronouncements of love, lies and lust and becomes persuasive of the world it presents. The dialogue is eloquent regardless of its agitated, sensual and somber nature as the script is also penned by the same playwright, Patrick Marber. Being the director who observes the truthfulness of human emotions, Nichols doesn’t shy from the rare, blistering romantic drama that CLOSER successfully channels. His realism shuns the melodrama with the ample amount of frustration and insecurity that sharpens the bluntness of each line. While the frank conversations maybe devoid of metaphoric significance, the film compensates through the sober strums of Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter” that opens and closes CLOSER in similar scenes with Alice Ayers (Portman) as the only redeemed character. Her disarming beauty, stubborn precocity and envied youth are somehow objectified that sets the story in motion. But her entanglement with Dan (Law), Anna (Roberts) and Larry (Owen) was, for what it’s worth, settles her in the most resilient position. And she does say the most concise break-up line in history.
A romantic roundabout that speaks the malice of love, CLOSER is more observing than feeling. The film’s objectivity on love and its unattractive dimensions are baffling, considering how fundamental the supreme emotion is to the existence of its characters. Nichols’ second-to-the-last film showcases one of the most depressing insights on love… but parts with the importance of loving one’s self. How can someone love if he/she is incapable of accepting his/her true identity and banishing his/her insecurity? (At least that’s how I grasp the film’s less self-absorbed message.)
CLOSER is an inviting romantic drama whose payoff deviates from what was anticipated. Love should bring people closer, not farther. But perhaps it’s the film’s intention to create such scenario to ponder the consequences… With that, I compromise.