There’s something of La Ronde about Closer. Both focus solely on the romantic engagements of their participants and both are decidedly democratic insofar as each participant is given an equal billing as it were. Yet in the case of Closer the circle is much smaller and more confined thereby forcing the various engagements to overlap and entangle. Indeed, you may not be able to plot Closer’s dramatic progressions on a graph as you can with La Ronde, but it’s an equally tightly structured, calculated glimpse into love in the early 21st century (though the play was written in the nineties).
Adapted from Patrick Marber’s play of the same name by the author himself, Closer concerns itself with Dan and Larry and Anna and Alice (is it just me picking up a Mazursky reference?). Respectively they’re a writer, doctor, photographer and sometime stripper, though such titles are unnecessary. Rather as the minutes tick away Marber treats us to the complexities of their relationships through, amongst other things, unintentional matchmaking, marriage, affairs and lapdances. Taking place over four years, the film skips and jumps through their key moments (imagine a linear recreation of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal if you will), never judging the participants but simply examining them with a cool, clinical eye.
Indeed, if anyone’s in control it’s Marber himself. Not only is his construction precise, but his dialogue also. So much so, in fact, that his continual bon mots threaten to dazzle us so much that they’ll defuse the emotional strength of his carefully assembled situations; even the seemingly banal confines of the internet chatroom are blessed with some choice verbiage. In the hands of a lesser director and cast this would no doubt prove to be a great problem for Closer, yet as it is Marber isn’t the only star of the show.
Mike Nichols arrives as director having had a good run of late, again with pieces of theatrical origin. He took the leading role for the first time since his days as a TV comic in David Hare’s film of Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner, plus there was his fine televisual adaptations of Margaret Edson’s Wit and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. All three have stood him in good stead - as has his previous cinematic helmings of the likes of the thematically similar Carnal Knowledge and the stage-to-screen translation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - and Closer comes to the big screen as a work that never feels like a mere filmic record of a theatrical event. Indeed, Nichols directs with perfect poise (as you would expect from someone who selects some Georg Solti conducted Mozart for the soundtrack), approaching the material with a delicacy and respect that never feels as though it is interfering with the on-screen activities. Save for some well timed zooms, it would appear that his focus was more greatly directed towards his cast than any overt technical considerations.
What is certain is that each and every one of the turns is an especially fine performance. Part of this may well be owing to the fact that each has a role they can truly get their teeth into (no doubt a great relief for Natalie Portman amongst the Star Wars prequels, or for Julia Roberts after the anodyne Mona Lisa Smile), though there is no denying that they all come across as especially comfortable and relaxed in their roles. The no sense of competition, one-upmanship or pressure amongst the four principles (the two male roles being occupied by Jude Law and Clive Owen) and as such they all prove eminently watchable. Under such circumstances it may seem unfair to single anyone out over the other, though an honourable mention is due to Owen (who after Chancer, Croupier and now this must be wondering as to whether he has discovered a titular formula to his best roles). His first two scenes especially offer a superb deconstruction of whatever suave persona he may commonly be associated with - no doubt these moments will become even more thrilling if he ever gets the James Bond job - and just go to show how far all of the actors are willing to go in order to integrate themselves into the narrative. Indeed, there are no signs of complacency here.
In terms of its presentation Closer is generally agreeable. The DD5.1 mix is especially fine at handling both the dialogue and bursts of music - the strip club scene in which the Smiths can be heard slightly in the background is recreated superbly - and there are no technical difficulties to speak of. As for the picture quality, however, there are the occasional instances of artefacting which, though minor, prove a little surprising in such a new release. Otherwise there are no problems to speak of. The film is transferred anamorphically (at a ratio of 1.78:1) and the colour schemes are rendered with little difficulty, from the mundane apartment settings to the neon-soaked strip club. With regards to the extras, however, the disc can’t help but disappoint. Alongside the obligatory theatrical trailer and various promos for other Sony releases, the only extra is the music video for Damien Rice’s ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, the song which accompanies both the opening and closing credits. It’s a welcome inclusion, though one can’t help but feel a disappointment at the lack of any input from Nichols or, especially, Marber. After all, he was quite happy to go on the interview circuit at the time of Closer’s theatrical release.