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Our First Review Of Mike Nichols

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

This one’s a pretty high-profile film for later this year, and I’m willing to bet there are a lot of awards dreams pinned to it. When NRG recruited this screening, they went after people who never attend test screenings, a totally different audience. Sounds like it’s not your standard fare for this kind of screening, too. So how is it? Let’s see what this person has to say...

Hey guys. Moonshine, here. A couple nights ago, I took in a screening of Mike Nichols' upcoming film, "Closer" in Santa Monica. According to the screening hosts, it was the first time the film was being shown to an audience and they were really interested in the audience's thoughts. I'll be curious to see the movie when it finally comes out to see if anything changes, but in the meantime I thought I'd share my thoughts with AICN.

So, first off, the obvious reasons to even waste a few hours of my time on the flick: it's apparently based on an award-winning play; it's directed by Mike Nichols; it stars Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Roberts. Pretty good pedigree, huh? I was thinking Oscar bait before I even walked in the door. And, well, there were other reasons to be interested. The invite called it an "erotically charged drama," and well...that sounded kinda hot. And Natalie Portman played a stripper! Frankly, I'm more interested in Jude and Clive, but sexy adult drama is very cool with me.

What's the story? Well, it's basically 4 people, 2 couples, who apparently live and thrive on coupling, uncoupling, and basically fucking with each other, both physically and especially mentally. The movie opens with Dan (Jude), a failed writer-turned obituary writer, making eye contact with Alice (Natalie), a scruffy and aimless waif (she even calls herself a waif, so don't blame me), anyway), on the street in London. Alice steps into London traffic and gets creamed by a cabbie. Dan rushes across the street to her aid, ends up taking her to a busy emergency room and waits with her to see a doctor. They talk and talk and talk. It's based on a play, after all. They exchange stories about their lives, giving us the fundamentals for their characters. Alice walks Dan to work, and it looks like they'll part there. Then, boom, we see Dan getting photographed for his book cover by Anna (Julia). It's suddenly a year or so later. Dan's written a book about Alice. Dan and Anna verbally joust while Anna takes his picture. Anna accuses Dan of stealing Alice's soul for his book. Dan accuses Anna of stealing his soul by taking his picture. Then, inexplicably, he coaxes her up for a kiss. He wants to see more of her, but she figures out that he's still with Alice, who's now living with him. Alice shows up to the photo shoot. While she uses the powder room, Dan tries to convince Anna to see him again, to no apparent avail. Then Alice emerges and asks Anna to take her portrait as well. They dispense with Dan to get more personal, Alice tearfully admits to Anna that she listened to her conversation with Dan, and then Anna takes her picture. From there, we flash ahead a few days or weeks. Dan's in an Internet sex chatroom, where he runs into Larry (Clive), a horny dermatologist. In the chat, Dan pretends to be Anna and gets Larry all worked up telling him the nasty things "she" wants to do to him. Then Dan proposes a meeting at a public aquarium he knows Anna likes to visit at lunchtime. Larry shows up the next day, approaches an oblivious Anna and starts talking dirty. They quickly realize Dan's set-up, and much to Dan's chagrin hook up and fall in love. From thereon, the story's pretty much a rapidly changing game of musical partners. We keep flashing forward and finding out that Dan loves Alice, no Anna, no Alice, and the same goes for Anna, who loves Larry, no Dan, blah blah blah. They keep on hurting each other, sometimes inadvertently, most of the time seemingly deliberately.

So, how's the movie? Well, I liked it and I didn't. I loved how frank and downright dirty it was at times. Dan and Larry's sex chat is no-holds barred and goes on for a lot longer than one might imagine. It makes you uncomfortable, but I think that's the point. Larry meets up with Alice in a strip club, and their extended private dance segment was probably my favorite scene in the movie, but it's discomforting to watch them each keep trying to push the other further into the painful territory of revealing their emotions and secrets. A whole hell of a lot of the behavior of these four characters will make you uncomfortable. The hard part for me was in finding anyone in this movie I actually liked or wanted to root for. I mean, I suppose I've seen good (even great) movies filled with unlikeable characters. "In The Company of Men" springs to mind. But this the end, I wanted to care about somebody, but I didn't. Without giving the ending away, something big happens, and to me it just felt so small. I really didn't care, and the way the characters end up together in the final scene seemed contrived and false. The action also seemed very stagebound. It's basically a series of extended scenes, with one couple or another talking, talking, talking. I don't know how that could be changed, or even if it should. A sense of claustrophobia is probably the point, but to me the settings seemed almost irrelevant.

There were some prominent positives. Jude's performance as a self-absorbed turd was great. Should you hate him? I did. I wanted somebody to beat the crap out of him, and I'm the biggest wimp you'll ever meet. Clive's also great as the brutish, horny doc. He was my favorite character, but I heard a couple people in the lobby talking about how awful he was, how Anna (or maybe they were confusing Anna the character with pretty woman-style Julia) would never fall for such a lunk. But he seemed like a consistent guy to me. He seemed tough, very crass, a guy who thinks with his dick more often than not, and when he was hurt, he wanted to hurt back. Simple enough. Then there's Natalie Portman. Wow, what a performance! Alice is the great mystery of the movie, a needy, clingy character who thrives on living in painful situations. In her hospital scene at the beginning of the movie, we see her sitting alone and picking at a bloody wound on her leg from the traffic accident, and to me that set the tone for her character for the rest of the movie. She picks and picks at things, allegedly looking for truth, but really getting off more on pain. That leaves Julia, and I'm so happy for her that she's got twins coming in the New Year, because if she's hoping for great reviews or Oscar consideration for this role, she isn't going to get it. It's an underwritten part, it's underacted, and it makes no sense. Dan's a narcissist, so we can see why he does what he does. Larry's a boor, who acts like a boor. Alice is a willing victim, who wears her victimhood like a badge. But Anna makes no sense at all. I got the impression that she was supposed to be one character who had her shit together, but she's really the one who screws up everyone else, simply by willingly playing a part in their three-way head games. I can see the logic in having a character who seemingly has her shit together, but is really the biggest mess of all, but the character isn't played or written that way. If Anna, or Julia, had allowed some of the frayed edges to show, then Anna's behavior in the film would have made more sense. If they could change that one thing, I'd recommend this movie without reservation.

As it stands, I'd have to give this one a good review. I just wish it were a lot better, and with the talent involved, it definitely should have been.

Hmmm… fascinating. I can’t wait to get a peek at this one myself later this year. Sounds like it really will be the sort of thing that we hear about a lot when the Oscar race starts to heat up. Thanks for the heads-up.

"Moriarty" out.

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