Mike Nichols has always possessed a superior ear for dialogue and, more importantly, the rhythm of dialogue. This is what makes him arguably the finest film director of stage works (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Wit, Angels in America). Closer is yet another accomplished film to add to that list. Patrick Marber's play has been opened up visually, but the story remains about the intense relationships between four people who sleep with each other, lie to each other, and -- quite often -- lie to themselves. Clive Owen finds every dimension in his alpha-male character. During one of the many arguments in this film he shouts, "I am a caveman!" Never for a second does the audience question that sliver of self-revelation. Jude Law manages a performance so full of charm and self-loathing that he undercuts his work in Alfie from the same year. However, it is the women that surprise. Julia Roberts became a star after Pretty Woman, and although she tried to shake that image with a series of brave artistic choices in the mid-'90s, she eventually accepted her status wholeheartedly and appeared in a string of pieces shaped to her persona (My Best Friend's Wedding, Notting Hill, and winning the Oscar for Erin Brockovich). As Anna in Closer, Roberts shows not an ounce of movie-star self-consciousness. She is in character at all times, unconcerned with her image. The character is weak and selfish, and Roberts plays it unflinchingly without ever asking the audience for sympathy. It is hard to believe she had a performance like this in her. Last but not least, Natalie Portman announces with this film that she is an adult -- and an actress of the highest caliber. She can play girlish -- smiling and giggling with what appears to be genuine puppy love -- although she is no longer a girl. This character understands how her physicality (something much more than just her sexuality) affects the people around her, and Portman acts with every ounce of herself. The character may well be unknowable to the other characters and to the audience -- but Portman understands her inside and out. With his superior timing, Nichols allows each of these actors to hit every funny, cruel, and intimate moment in the script. Closer is a well-written, well-directed, and well-acted exercise in making cruel people compulsively watchable.
by Perry Seibert review