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Closer

Year: 2005
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: David Marber
Cast: Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
There's a quote often mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare; in fact it was Sir Walter Scott who said "Oh what a tangled web we weave..."

Scott was talking about how liars need good memories, but the same words have been applied to everything from the stock market to Jane Austen, and no phrase better sums up the mess we make of our lives in the name of for love. Director Nichols and screenwriter Marber (upon whose play the film is based) capture the agony of such tangled webs with near perfection in the most realistic portrayal of human beings and their foibles in a long time.

It's no coincidence most movies ends on a shot of the hero and heroine embracing or riding off into the sunset - the notion of 'happily ever after' is something we desperately want to believe in a world where we seldom see it.

It's not entirely clear whether Nichols intended it or not, but the opening shot of Closer is much like the closing shot in a film with a traditional romantic conclusion. The whole movie us about the story after the anticipation of the pursuit, where the boy and girl get together and happily ever after starts, and so where most movies end, it begins.

It centres on four people, stripper Alice (Portman), writer Dan (Law), photographer Anna (Roberts) and dermatologist Larry (Owen). Each of the four love and live with each other, sometimes more than once. It sounds fairly simple and uninteresting on paper, but when it's mixed up with earnestly portrayed desire, obligation, lust, heartbreak and fear, you'll be hooked at every stage.

It's like life - bittersweet, rewarding, and the hopeless race for happiness we know is going to kill us in the end (maybe even sooner if we're unlucky enough). It's a melting pot of good and bad people and good and bad intentions, of what they want to do and what they feel they should do.

To describe the storyline would be to give too much away, and in a strange way, the storyline is almost secondary to what the characters feel and how they react. The whole tale is told is a series of intensely emotional scenes where in some cases a long time has passed and the relationships of the four protagonists have shifted all over again - we often don't have a clue where each character's at until it comes out in the conversation. And it all plays out against a realistic backdrop of contemporary London where real people live, away from the Buckingham Palaces and Tower of Londons.

Some people will dislike it, believing themselves above the pathetic behaviour and insecurity of the characters. If you're in a completely happy relationship or marriage and don't have eyes for anyone but your partner, enjoy it - you're lucky. That's what Nichols is saying; the human heart is a very dangerous thing and if the complications of desire ever find you, watch out - you never know when you'll end up in the same quagmire.

If you've ever been left or hurt, fallen in love or been with someone and fallen in love with someone else - even if you've had an argument with your partner about the insecurity of your feelings - you'll range between nodding knowingly and shedding tears as you watch the whole heart-wrenching debacle. And if you've never been in a relationship or fallen in love, let a talented director and four very good actors show you what you're in for.

The flow of the story is tightly wound enough to be engaging while each scene is given enough elbow room to flow just like real life. And just like real life, it leaps nimbly between agonising and hilarious in the blink of an eye.

Roberts and Law both live up to their superstar status and Clive Owen plays a great character wonderfully. He's a great talker with a paradoxical presence; both profane and tender. He gets all the funny lines and you realise what a good performer he is when he isn't wasting his time trying to stare nobly into the distance like in King Arthur.

But all eyes will quite literally be on Natalie Portman as Alice. To the dismay of teenage boys everywhere, she convinced Nichols to cut her fully nude scenes from the film, but she still displays a sequined g-string and bra top. Despite her beauty however, something about her fails to convince as a woman who makes her living turning men on by undressing - there's a girlish quality about her that just doesn't sell it. Maybe that was what Nichols was after, knowing the only way men could desire her (as Owen does in one of his pivotal scenes) is in a daze of drunkenness. Alice also harbours a secret that's given away in the final frames and sets her up as the smartest of the bunch but it almost threatens to take the impact away from the rest of the proceedings.

It's lewd and confronting, as real life sometimes is when nobody's there to make sure it gets a PG rating, but that's the one reason to go and see it; Closer is a huge slice of reality, like reality TV but finally about a subject that matters.

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