Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
directed by Mike Nichols
starring Jude Law, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman
Mike Nichols is no stranger to broken hearts. Throughout his film career he has turned his lens inward on the brutal world of relationships and the mechanisms of deceit that cause them to crumble. But he has never done it so unabashedly honestly as he does with his new film, Closer.
Based on Patrick Marber’s stage play, Closer is the twisted story of two relationships and the jealousy, bitterness, heartbreak, and happiness they cause. It begins on a crowded London street as Dan, a geeky obituary writer (a nebbishly dulled-down Jude Law) eyes Alice (a dolled-up Natalie Portman) a stripper who is not what she seems, smiling at him as she walk in a crowd before being hit by a car and rescued by the seemingly meek Dan
We then fast forward a bit and meet Anna (Julia Roberts), an American photographer working in London snapping a photo shoot of Dan who has just written his first novel, which incidentally is based on the life of his now live-in girlfriend Alice. During the shoot Dan flatters and smooth talks Anna, laying it on thick enough that she actually becomes interested in him. Things begin to go horribly wrong for Dan when Anna rebuffs his initial sexual advances. Then Alice unsuspectingly turns up at the studio, setting up one of the movie’s most climactic emotional moments. At this point Nichols doesn’t let the tension go. He turns up the heat as a spiteful Dan, now revealed as the lecherous bastard that he really is, meets Larry (Clive Owen), a dermatologist and equally shady bloke in an online singles chatroom. Dan misleads Larry into thinking that he is in fact Anna and sets up a meeting place with him. When Larry and an unsuspecting Anna meet up things get really interesting and they hook up.
Eventually as the couples’ lovey-dovey happiness wears off an emotional melee ensues which causes the couples to spitefully switch partners and become meaner, uglier, and much more depraved. This is where Nichols is really in his environment. His films have always focused on the instincts and honesty of relationships. In Closer he takes these elements and strips them down to their barest and most primal forms.
Nichols cast his actors against type with masterful results. Roberts has never been meaner on film. Portman has never been this unreserved and blatantly sexy. However, it is the two male leads that carry the day. Jude Law propels the film, shapes it and serves as the catalyst for the film’s sexual tension. Clive Owen’s turn as a misogynistic deviant who will stop at nothing to get what he wants provides the perfect foil for Law.
Although Closer is not the feel-good date film of the year it is a thrilling, albeit excessively wordy, film that probes, jabs and digs beneath the textures of relationships, revealing the known but oftentimes unstated truths about how involved men and women interact with one another. Director Mike Nichols masterfully takes the aspects of relationships that people don’t want to face and brings them to the surface with crude, illicit results. Closer takes a while to get going, but once it does the fine acting, raw sexual innuendo and brazen selfishness take hold and suck you in. Despite filming an alternative ending, Nichols has masterfully adapted a play filled with seedy characters, intense confrontations, brutal ruthlessness, crude sex and a generally unsavory demeanor into a provocative and real film.