Mike Nichols' Closer is a sophisticated movie. I say this after having thought about that designation for a while, a process which only made me certain about being right in the first place. Why would it need such a careful evaluation? Well, maybe because people in it speak like sailors, act like primitives, and display a behavior which could be interpreted as spoiled more than anything else. It is sophisticated, however, and that has nothing to do with the empty cultural aureole that surrounds it, and everything with the filmmaker and screenwriter allowing it to have some of the liberties this field more than allows, without feeling obligated to blush.
The starting point for enjoying it is to take it as a Hollywood production. That isn't so hard to do. It stars actors who were, at that time and even now, some of the more bankable ones, falling in and out of love (lets stop it at that), and is directed by an Oscar winner who made financially successful movies right from the first one. We meet Natalie Portman and Jude Law first, in a slow motion, which is a perfect way to look at their relationship as it is set up. She is hit by a car while walking the street, and he takes her to hospital. The injuries are insignificant, but the destined slow mo meeting results in them living together.
Fast-forward a year or so, something this movie does without consulting us too much. Her past experiences make her too possessive towards him, he can't handle it, and his love of a different kind finds Julia Roberts' photographer attractive. She does not respond at once, a situation made extra complicated by him accidentally setting her up with Clive Owen's doctor. The following interaction of these four is not interesting to describe or, from a certain moment, even try to understand. I kept the desire to follow them until the end, however, though, gradually, the actors were forced to carry more weight than this production welcomed.
These people from the big city of London want security more than anything, ready to cry or scream in public if that would mean that they have a chance to keep it, and who can, precisely because of that, sense, from miles ahead, every temptation which poses a danger to their status quo , even if the source lies in their person. The necessity of succumbing to those temptations gives the film an intellectual weight which, in general, made it work for me-the powerlessness and the awareness of its inevitability.
That exciting feeling of being thrown out of your comfort zone by raw emotion, which, combined with pure noise, prevents you to regain your composure, fades in that obligatory moment when you want not so much to form an opinion about the characters, but certainly understand the position they are coming from. The desire of the film-making team for this quartet to explain their actions so clearly doesn't help with that, as words tend to lose direction as the action progresses and the emotional core, which makes them say the things they say, will sometimes be so far away that you just want have enough time to find it before everything becomes loud again.
The eloquence, however, is not missing. Observe how Nichols' camera respects the need for expression of each character. There are few instances where the he turns our attention on certain shots, but shortly after they are established, he makes sure we keep it where it should be. The humor, delicious at times, is reinforced by the self-confidence of the actors, especially Owen, who plays it as a boxer who never shows intention to tell you in which instance his call for a fight is just a joke.
Now about those liberties. Verbal direction and rapid-fire deliveries take us back to the old times when people from the silver screen spoke in a different way from us, common mortals, and when the realists of the day were not so annoyingly loud as they can be these days. It is easy to forget, after the early nineties, that designed dialogues don't always have to be followed by scenes of designed violence. Call it an excuse for enthusiasm if you want, but I found more bravery in here than one would expect with such a precious cast.