Closer (2004, Mike Nichols)
Closer will break your heart and make you wonder about love. More accurately, Natalie Portman will break your heart, and Clive Owen will make you wonder about love.
Those two easily steal this movie from top-billed Julia Roberts (Anna) and Jude Law (Dan), which is not to say that either of them are bad. In the first five minutes of the movie, in fact, Law gives probably his most touching performance of the year, in a year in which he’s been in everything. Dan is an obituary writer, who meets Alice (Portman) in a street and falls in love. Nichols isn’t content to give us one love story, though. He introduces Anna, a photographer, and later her boyfriend Larry (Owen), and their relationships intertwine when Dan and Anna embark on an affair.
None of these characters are saints, but each is relentlessly human. Nichols is extremely good at making unsympathetic characters sympathetic, and peeling back the layers of human relationships. The most honest of the four leads is the working-class doctor, Larry, whose anger and sleaze draw you in rather than repel you with his pure instinctive rawness, and the best scene in the film is the champagne-room standoff between him and stripper-muse Alice, who haunts everyone that meets her. Dan’s transformation from naive and lovable to cocky and cold, and Anna’s ability to turn emotions on and off are unpleasant, but familiar.
You can see shades of yourself in each character here, from pure-id Larry, human ego Dan, controlling superego Anna, and the blast of pure emotion Alice. Nichols asks us to examine ourselves, and makes us question what we consider good and nice, or nasty and wrong. The conclusions you reach may not be pretty, but there’s a streak of real feeling in this film that sets it apart from other domestic drama (We Don’t Live Here Anymore comes to mind.)