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  Closer Yet So Far Away
Year: 2004
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Aspiring author Dan (Jude Law) is walking along a London street on his way to work as an obituary writer when he spots an attractive young woman (Natalie Portman) walking towards him, and she notices him too. So distracted is she that she when she goes to cross the street, she is knocked down by a taxi and Dan rushes over to see if she is all right. As he stoops over her, she looks up from her daze and says, "Hello stranger". Soon he has taken her to hospital in the taxi and they are getting to know one another in the waiting area; he doesn't care that he's late for work, he is enchanted with the woman, who says her name is Alice. But modern love is a fickle thing...

Patrick Marber adapted his own award-winning play for director Mike Nichols' film version, with a star in the four main roles to boost the profile. But how well did they match up to the challenging subject matter and frequently near-the-knuckle dialogue? Although it has its fans, in truth the play on the big screen was a bit like visiting the London Aquarium that features as a plot point, only instead of watching the fish swim around and interact we were watching variations on the same two couples trying to work out their desires with their responsibilities.

And it was a passive experience, as uninvolving emotionally as it would be to observe those fish. The other two characters other than Dan and Alice are Anna (Julia Roberts), a photographer, and Larry (Clive Owen), a doctor, and the way they cross paths is one of the least likely "meet cute" scenes in cinema. Dan is online in an internet sex chatroom and pretends to be a horny woman for Larry's pleasure - he's doing this at work in the hospital, to add another layer of absurdity - and after a lot of dirty talk Dan suggests they meet up at that Aquarium.

Of course, he doesn't turn up, but knows that Anna, who he is attracted to despite Alice being his girlfriend now, will be there and when Larry approaches her he makes a fool of himself. Rather than run a mile, divorcee Anna becomes Larry's girlfriend, much to Dan's jealousy, and so on, as the men swap partners and do each other a lot of emotional damage. For most of the film it looks as though Dan has the upper hand, although Anna has controlling aspects to her personality too, but Larry hasn't forgotten his chatroom humiliation and will get his own back.

The overall tone is, woe is me, oh isn't it tough being a grown-up? but you will likely tire of a story that is barely one step up from the average soap opera. If you enjoy those kind of screen relationships then you might well get something out of Closer, if you don't mind self-consciously frank sexual talk that is, but Marby's script has an artificial quality that decent acting from the cast can't quite obscure. This is especially noticeable when the conversations grow heated, and the insults can be strange ("You writer!") as can, for example, Larry's furious quizzing of Anna's sexual habits with Dan when he finds out they've been having an afffair. Perhaps the biggest problem is that you don't believe these terminally unsatisfied people could stand an evening together, never mind a whole film's worth of each other's company. Do they really play The Smiths in strip clubs, incidentally?
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Mike Nichols  (1931 - 2014)

German-born director in America who was part of a successful comedy act with Elaine May. He then turned to theatre and film, directing sharply observed dramas and comedies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22 and the controversial Carnal Knowledge.

After the flop Day of the Dolphin, his output became patchier, but The Fortune, Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge, Wolf and Charlie Wilson's War all have their merits. On television, he directed the award-winning miniseries Angels in America.

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