As 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.
As 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.