All-star cast leads film that seeks honesty in infidelity

I went to see “Closer” this past weekend, thinking that it would be a light movie, possibly mixed with some troubling romance. When I heard someone compare the film to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I thought he was surely mistaken. There was no way that “Closer” could possibly be as biting and insightful as the classic Edward Albee play and respected Mike Nichols film. As it turns out, I was the one mistaken.

“Closer” is, in fact, a truly insightful film, filled with the honesty that is so often left out of the movies and the veracity that we miss in our lives. It is the story of two men and two women, Dan (Jude Law), Larry (Clive Owen), Alice (Natalie Portman) and Anna (Julia Roberts). Although Dan and Alice are dating and living together, Dan falls in love with Anna, a photographer, who marries Larry.

We see the couples interact with each other and the spite that only love can bring out in people. As the characters choose and change partners, new lives are created and destroyed. Along with the ideas of love and fidelity, the film addresses the concept of honesty and its place in a relationship. It details the challenge to form an identity from a life we do not understand and the relationships we must struggle to hold together.

As one would expect from the accomplished cast, the acting is excellent. The actors abandon melodrama and instead opt for a passionate honesty. Alice becomes real with Natalie Portman’s depth and Julia Roberts gracefully captures Anna’s awkward maturity. Jude Law is again striking as Dan, but it’s Clive Owens who steals the show as Larry. He is vulgar and distasteful, yet we feel for him as we do for the other characters. In this film, everyone and no one is guilty at the same time. The actors capture those mixed feelings perfectly.

Director Mike Nichols (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “The Graduate,” “The Birdcage,” “Angels in America”) uses his experience to his advantage, creating a quality and well-made film. He does not apologize for the mean spirits of his characters, but showcases them as proudly as the character Anna displays her photographs – they are both out to capture the truth. Nichols directs his film with confidence and the result is wonderful.

The structure is not a narrative in the traditional sense, as it makes large leaps in time and perspective, leaving the audience to piece things together on its own. The film also chooses to leave out many of what could be considered the most important scenes. While we know about certain affairs, we do not see them. Instead, we see the consequences. The dialogue is sharp and often vicious, sometimes even sexually graphic, but it never shies away from the truth.

“Closer” is dismal yet thought-provoking and not ever afraid to confront and challenge the actions and emotions of its characters. It is startling and real, a true accomplishment for all involved.