An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Watching ďCloserĒ is like fighting to surface from under a nasty wave.  You want to get away, but you canít.   Mike Nichols has made a movie so intense that it feels, and often sounds, like a sustained roar.   The film is a piercing exercise in betrayal delivered by a cast of four.

            Professional photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) is taking pictures of Daniel (Jude Law) for the jacket of his new novel.  They fall in instant love.  The subject of Danielís novel is Alice (Natalie Portman).  They have been living and loving together since Alice was hit by a car at a Manhattan intersection and was rescued by Daniel.  Suddenly, Daniel loves both Alice and Anna;  Alice and Anna love Daniel.  It would seem there might be a solution to that equation, but there isnít, partly because Anna is married to Larry (Clive Owen). 

            It is telling that we know very little about any of these people.  To know about them would be to understand them, and to understand them would distract us from the focus on the present moment in their lives.  We know only what we see right now:  bewildering emotional turbulence.   

            Neither Larry nor Daniel can stand thinking of the other making love to Anna.  Each begs her to stay with him, and each fails and then succeeds.  These scenes where Alice is left by Daniel, Daniel by Alice, Larry by Anna, Daniel by Anna are a carefully designed structure on which to hang the fury that envelops them all. 

            To keep us suspended in time, Nichols uses an unusual series of flashbacks, each initiated by one character or another with a question that infuriates his partner of the moment.  The camera shifts instantly to an earlier scene that answers the question, always with explosive results.  The sexual details Daniel and Larry extract from the two women are so flammable that they accelerate the degradation of everyone.  All four of them are sinking in the quicksand of humiliation.   

As their voices grow louder, more insistent, and more foul, they use words as weapons, imagery as cruelty.  A scene in which Larry eviscerates Daniel in a hellfire of ugliness is almost too intense to watch.  Neither the men nor the women escape humiliation, and when itís all over we know no more about them than we did at the beginning Ė not where they came from or where they are going.  We do know a lot more about how sexual jealousy unleashed can contort the human heart.

 Julia Roberts is clearly uncomfortable with muttering obscenities.  Itís just not her style.  Natalie Portman cloaks a young woman from nowhere in intriguing mystery.  But both women are overwhelmed by Jude Law and Clive Owen who are masterful in the extraordinary battle that may well destroy them both.  In this movie that is all about sex without ever showing any, Mike Nichols has given us a raw and powerful portrait of unadorned betrayal. 



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