CLOSER is filled with wounding dialogue between wounded characters, much of it sexually frank (albeit in a mostly brutal way), but if one line sums up the manifest thrust of this 2004 “love hurts” flayride it would be “Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood!”  Mike Nichols, expert at turning couples night at the movies into an uneasy ride home (Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?) or giving first dates a good chance at being last (Carnal Knowledge), turns a spite hose on four miserable souls who cross paths (and designer bods) in London, love lying bleeding in their windy wake.

DAN: “Everybody wants to be happy.”  LARRY: “Depressives don’t. They want to be unhappy to confirm they’re depressed. If they were happy they couldn’t be depressed anymore. They’d have to go out into the world and live. Which can be depressing.”

Londoner ‘Dan Woolf’ (Jude Law) kismet meets traffic-stopping American visitor ‘Alice Ayres’ (Natalie Portman) but their fast-track passion match later dives into the loo when Dan gets a serious yen for another American ex-pat, photographer ‘Anna Cameron’ (Julia Roberts) who, thanks to a dickish prank from Dan, gets together with intense dermatologist ‘Larry Gray’ (Clive Owen). Partner picks pry them all to uncomfortable romantic reckonings, but not before they inflict emotional damage in their private Battle of Britain’ roughly equal to the 1940 Blitz.

He was a convivial fellow” – meaning he was an alcoholic. “He valued his privacy” – gay. “He enjoyed his privacy” – raging queen.”

Once more directing his actors to a fault, Nichols take-no-prisoners script was by Patrick Marber, who adapted his 1997 play (Owen repeats his stage role). Made for $27,000,000, the in-yer-face exercise in emotional exorcism stirred a worldwide gross of $115,500,000 (only $33,988,000 of that in the States, where it had to make do with 82nd place) and generally positive critical response, with Owen and Portman both Oscar-nominated in Supporting categories.

Lying’s the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off – but it’s better if you do.”

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the mating game can be one of life’s greatest hits. The flip side can be a destruction derby with more PTSD than Braveheart meets Private Ryan. After a few “I’ll never do that again” lowlights have been dimmed into the soft hues of reflection, one can “enjoy” the occasional cinema massacre of innocence from the relative safety of the audience role rather than casualty participant. For this harsh, superbly acted delve into tryst twists and their pay-later tab we suggest either watching solo or with a same-sex friend who can share the jade without starting a no-win argument. Law easily confers weaseldom, Roberts convincingly essays martyred acceptance. Owen seethes with volatile immaturity, and Portman takes top honors with a multi-faceted look at someone who knows the ropes and desperately wants to untie them.

A good job, but you need to be in the right mood. Candidates for a catharsis double-bill (or overdose) might include Your Friends And Neighbors, Revolutionary Road, Shoot The Moon, Blue Valentine and Marriage Story.

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