Rethinking “Closer”

Closer movie posterAs you know, Bob, I was sick in the previous days, and I had time to watch many films. I got a Clive Owen movie collection. I’m not his greatest fan, but luckily, I watched two great movies: “Gosford Park” and “Children of Men”. But the one that got me thinking in the past few days is “Closer”.

I know, I know. It’s not a type of a movie I usually enjoy. But it actually got me thinking about Patrick Marber’s play. And that one is a world for itself.

Closer: A play

On stage, I’ve seen “Closer” in a rudimental form- as a student exam play. Still, it was surprisingly captivating. I say surprisingly, because I strongly dislike work that deals with male/female relationships.

However, Patrick Marber’s “Closer” is brilliantly written. It’s perfect the way it is. No other words to describe it. The plot and the subject, in this sense, are irrelevant. Yes, the play is THAT good.

Don’t get me wrong. The subject still isn’t my thing. People falling in and out of love, cheating, jealousy… Not my cup of tea. The play is, in fact, dark and very unsettling. I found all of the characters disgusting, almost sick.

Still, the way it’s written (and planned) is amazing. We see some scenes from the lives of four people- only selected, key scenes. For example, we see the first (and the last) time each of them meet. We see them flirt. We see them break up. But we don’t see anything in between.

Also, we are not informed about the time passing between the acts. In one moment, a guy meets a girl. In the next, he is flirting with another woman- a year has passed. We must fill in the blanks, and since we never see the actual relationships- just the starting and breaking points- it’s sometimes shocking to realize what’s going on in between. Still, that’s the play’s greatest strength. It makes you focused and immersed in their world.

The other brilliant thing, of course, is the writing itself. Every line is there for a reason. The excessive profanity marks some strongest points in the play. Explicit language just make it all sound cruel, not passionate- which is, in my opinion, appropriate for the story and the characters in question.

Marber knows his way with words, and he knows how to spark an interest with the audience. We find ourselves constantly changing allegiance between the four characters. We sympathize with one of them in an act, but hate him or her in the next. It’s a constant emotional and intellectual battle. The result, like I said, is exhausting, not pleasant; the play doesn’t offer any clear messages or answers. But it’s captivating, amazingly written and makes a great experience.

The film

Closer movie castAs a movie, “Closer” is still interesting, but it loses some of its charm.

The main problem, I believe, was the fact they tried to stick way too close to the play (Marber wrote the script, after all). But what works on stage doesn’t necessarily work on film. Almost empty stage with only some hints of scenography, four people in total (with only one scene with all of them on stage at the same time)- it all suited the narrative. In the film, however, the proposed format doesn’t work that well. Sense of the time is different and, although I already knew the story, it was harder to keep the track on the time passed between the scenes.

The film, however, is not bad per se. The play was better, that’s all. The movie, on the other hand, has some strong points. The acting is very good. As someone who dislikes Julia Roberts and (a little less) Jude Law, I must admit I expected them to be distracting. They weren’t. Jude was convincing (yet, annoying) as Dan. Julia was ok- but nothing more-as Anna, and I do think her performance was the weakest. The other two, Natalie Portman as Alice and Clive Owen as Larry, were more convincing. Owen was particularly memorable, switching between sex-obsessed, moving, threatening and revengeful (mostly threatening though).

And when he shouts to Dan, near the end of the movie: “Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood! Go fuck yourself! You writer! You liar!” it is so powerful. The quote that could seem banal becomes one of the best you ever heard. And yes, he made “writer” sound like an insult. That’s acting.

5 thoughts on “Rethinking “Closer”

  1. Mariana

    I have never seen Closer (play or film). My best friend loves this film, my brother and mother hated so I don’t really know if I should spend my money renting it.

    I like Natalie Portman, and it isn’t because of Léon. I just found out that it was her in the end of the movie. But in “V for Vendetta” she’s really great.

    The first time I saw Owen was in “Beyond Borders” and he was superb. He didn’t convinced me as King Arthur but “Shoot ‘em up” was quite fun.

    Now I’m thinking… them both worked with Gary… =D

  2. Mira

    Well, I won’t lie: it IS disturbing. But the writing is superb. The way Marber creates scenes, and the whole idea of presenting only the key moments in these people’s lives (the time span is 4 years), is amazing. Also, to make us love one character in one moment and hate him in another is also done skilfully. At the end, yes, you feel empty, because all of these people are disgusting, they did horrible things, and they didn’t learn anything in the process. But that ambiguity is also a good thing: I don’t like when a message is forced. There’s no message here; all you get is a sign of relief when you realize you are nothing like these people, any of them… But you also have to admit that you resemble at least one or two of them, at least a bit.

    But like I said, the plot itself is irrelevant. I liked the play as a good writing.

    I understand why your mother and brother hated the film- yes, it’s unsettling and it does leave you empty. But acting is very good. I am not Julia Roberts fan, but even she was ok. Jude Law, bless him, was annoying as usual, but it suited the character so it was good.

    Natalie Portman is a good actress, though I must admit I haven’t seen many of her movies. Léon is one of the kind, of course.

    Clive Owen is a good actor, but I’d prefer him to play in serious movies. We don’t need another action hero. He’s done some serious work int he theater and I do believe he’s one of “those” good British actors. Some people say he has a monotone voice. I like his voice, but then again, it’s deep and manly so maybe that’s why. :P In any case, he’s good. He was good in Gosford Park, Children of Men and he gave the strongest performance in Closer.

    However, I do believe Hollywood doesn’t have a clue what to do with him- just like with any other British actors.

    I haven’t seen King Artur. Did the movie suck in overall, or just Clive Owen? Or was it because of Keira Knightley?

    And lol, now that I think about it: both Natalie and Clive worked with Gary! Though I must admit Owen was next to invisible in Beat the Devil. But then again, that’s Gary Oldman we’re talking about. Of course he’s going to steal the show!

    My advice is- rent the movie, but pick a correct mood. It’s not for the depressing days.

  3. Alex

    I haven’t read the play or seen it on stage. But I loved the movie. like you said, it’s disturbing in a way, but no, it didn’t leave me feeling empty.

    I wouldnt call those characters sick, i think they are portrayed as human, and realistic. yes, some things were over the top (everybody cheating and lying), but what’s truly cruel in the film is its realism. That’s reality. yes, it is disgusting but it’s reality.

    Why do you hate Jude Law? I dont think he was annoying, he was good as Dan. they were all good. it’s not Julia Robert’s fault, she was good too, but the character was supposed to be like that. i agree with Portman and Owen, they were both great. She was mysterious and fragile and he was so cruel and, i must admit, so handsome. I tried to hate him, especially in the scenes with all those profanities and revenge but i couldn’t. yes, thats because of Clive, but he was great. I dont think we were supposed to hate Larry anyway.

    To Mariana: do watch this film. it’s amazing but i agree, you must be in a good mood and have someone hug you afterwards.

  4. zek j evets

    i liked this movie when i first saw it! (never saw the play, or knew there was one.) the whole situation of everybody fucking everybody and then at the end they’re all just a bunch of assholes was kinda cool, because it’s a non-traditional ending for hollywood cinema.

    jude law was my favorite in this movie, because he’s probably the worst of them, the most pathetic, and that’s a feat in a movie that’s mostly a bunch of sex and emotional madness.

    now i’ll have to check out the play/the writing and see what i’ve missed…

    good post!

  5. Mira


    I like your idea of the movie being more realistic than we often like to think. Of course not all the people are like that, but yes, the scary thing about “Closer” is that it gives a

    But then again, character are “sick”, especially Alice. There are more hints about it in the play. She cuts herself and it’s clear she has some mental problems.

    On the other hand, Anna and Dan have their share of emotional and mental problems that prevent them from leading good lives (even if they look “normal” on the outside). And Larry… Larry can be a sex obsessed bastard, but is in a way the only “sane” person out there (even though is cruel and revengeful).

    I don’t hate Jude Law. Seriously, I don’t hate the guy. But I dislike the whole hype about him. He’s not my type so I don’t care about watching movies just to see his pretty face. As an actor, he is good, but nothing special. Like I said, I don’t hate the guy but I don’t understand the hype. He was good as Dan, though, and Dan should be annoying in some aspects (they all are).

    @ zek j evets

    Yes, there is a popular play by Patrick Marber. It’s not considered his best work, but the play itself got great critics. I like the writing, but even more, I like the way the story is organized- to show only the key moments and not the actual relationships.

    The characters, especially Alice, are a bit different in the play. She has a history of hurting (cutting) herself and we realize she has some serious problems. But still, she is no “worse” than the others. She doesn’t even look crazier. Anna- as far as I remember- is portrayed as a depressed person who doesn’t know what she wants of her life.

    I am not sure if I could tell which one is the worse and the most pathetic. They all are awful, but you also sympathize with each of them in some moments. I like the fact there’s no white/black dichotomy here.

    Not sure what to say about Dan. Yes, you can tell he’s a total failure and yes, I do dislike men who behave like he does in the story. Still, I must admit I disliked Anna the most. Call it a female jealousy, but I hated the fact everybody (all men) are so crazy about her, they see her as something “special”, while she is not. Ok, that might not be her fault, it’s the guy’s problem. I was very hurt by Dan’s comment: “I like her more because she doesn’t need me!” I know many people who feel the same, who like only people who don’t need them or who don’t even show much emotions to them, men who like only women they have to chase etc. So now when I think about it, I guess you’re right, Dan might be the most pathetic of them all.

    The weird thing is, however you look at it, Larry, with all his manipulations, revenge and sexism seems like the only one even remotely “normal” out there. Maybe that’s why many people consider him to be the most evil of them all- he’s the one who understands how cruelties of the world really work. Others seem to behave instinctively and unaware of what their actions mean or what they might bring.

    All in all, a really good story, but yes, it’s still sick- even if it’s realistic. And that makes it even worse and more difficult to watch/read: it’s realistic. Not all people behave like those in the story, but the mechanism of their actions tell as a lot about humans and society.

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