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Following a spell of writing for the Steve Coogan guises of Alan Partridge and Paul Calf, Patrick Marber moved onto slightly more serious turf with his first West End play. Dealer's Choice was a hit with critics and audiences alike and, in 1997, Marber offered an encore in the shape of Closer, a no holds barred look at the nature of relationships. Someone in Hollywood was obviously taking notice when the play became magnetically attracted to award statuettes, for Marber was offered the chance of adapting his own play into a major motion picture. This brings us neatly to 2005 where, after a strong critical appreciation to the movie and enough awards to break a mantelpiece, it arrives on DVD...

Closer
Film
Closer details the intertwining relationships of four different characters and represents the type of film that is concerned with well-developed characters rather than high-concept plotting. Flashing forward to key sequences in the character's lives, we see the beginnings, endings and numerous obstacles of their relationships.

Aspiring novelist Dan (Jude Law) is drawn to photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) at a photo-shoot but he is ultimately rejected when he reveals his romantic involvement with ex-stripper Alice (Natalie Portman). Irritated by the rejection, Dan begins to stalk Anna, eventually drawing doctor Larry (Clive Owen) into the story. Complications ensue when Larry and Anna become involved, but will Anna succumb to Dan's advances?

A breath of fresh air in a world of densely plotted movies, Closer allows you to fill in the gaps that are left between scenes that are separated by many months. The focus is purely on these four characters and a supporting cast is almost entirely absent. Lucky, then, that the cast is up to challenge for this is where the strength of the film truly lies. Roberts hasn't been this good in a very long time; perhaps managing to erase the trilogy of nightmares that were Notting Hill, Runaway Bride and The Mexican from recent memory. Perhaps this is because, for the first time ever, Roberts is playing a character that the audience is not naturally expected to like, admire, or aspire to be.

Following his performance in this film, Clive Owen managed to make his way into many conversations regarding the portrayal of a certain secret agent. While the jury is still deliberating on just whether that's such a good idea, his performance here is certainly deserving of the attention he received. Larry is a fierce, manipulative bully and in stark contrast to Owen's previous roles. Perhaps the best moments of the film are when he and Jude Law's character are onscreen together. Law, playing a whining and insufferable egotist with perhaps far too much conviction, makes a fitting foil and acts as the catalyst for all of the film's events.

Closer
If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that the characters discussed so far have been a pretty flawed bunch of people. In fact, this is Closer biggest asset—and also its largest hurdle as the climax approaches. While it's undeniably brave for a film to feature a bunch of selfish and nasty characters, it does get a little wearing towards the conclusion when we're supposed to root for these people to find happiness. Natalie Portman, escaping the constraints of a galaxy far, far away, is blessed with the role of the most sympathetic character and seems to enjoy portraying the more mysterious aspects of Alice. Of all the characters in the film, it is Alice who undergoes the most change; swept about by the actions of the others. Portman manages to make these changes seem subtle and believable and it is ultimately she who we are asked to empathise with; forever in the hope that she'll escape from this impossible situation and this self-serving group of people.  
 
Suffice to say, Closer is pretty hard going. Rows aplenty and lots of 'colourful language' pepper the slender runtime. Viewed from this angle, its roots as a play are clear and plain to see. Marber's dialogue is sparky and filled with black-humour, complimenting Mike Nichols' understated direction, but one wonders if this is truly the right sort of story to be given the big screen treatment. Grounded by its realism and truthful characterisation, the film can never quite develop into something truly outstanding. While it undoubtedly has much to say about relationships, the occasionally heavy-handed way it does this, plus the lack of sympathy these characters garner, mean that this is not always as entertaining as it should be. The comedic scenes that populate the earlier sequences only contribute to a feeling of disappointment when the hollow ending arrives. A half-hearted twist can only be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders.

While Closer should certainly be on most film fans’ 'to view' lists, it's doubtful it will be as fondly remembered in years to come. Clever dialogue and fantastic performances aren't quite enough to make this the film it could have been. Close, maybe, but no cigar.

Closer
Video
While at first glance this region two release seems identical to its region one cousin in terms of packaging, a Closer look (sorry) reveals that this is not the same disc. The Superbit transfer that found its way onto stateside players has been lost in translation and we're left with a standard anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) picture. Fortunately, the print is up to the challenge and there's a lack of grain and grime. Closer was shot in a way to denote a level of realism and this is represented with bland colours and a discernible lack of bright shades. While never entirely pretty to look at, the image is always sharp and clear. It may not be Superbit, but it's really not that bad at all.

Audio
Also missing from the transfer to region two is the DTS soundtrack. It’s not a huge loss, as the dialogue-heavy track is not something to showcase your system and the 5.1 Dolby Digital track can handle things more than successfully. Perhaps the only drawback is a slight overshadowing of background noise during those scenes shot on location.

Extras
You know; Closer should win one more award—specifically, the award for 'laziest region one DVD release of a high-profile movie 2005'. This is the only adequate response to this bare-bones disc as the region one features of DTS and Superbit have been clearly sacrificed for...a big fat nothing. Extras-wise this is as sparse as the US disc.

Trailers for other movies have been thrown in to beef things up but it falls upon a Damien Rice music video to attract some enthusiasm. While The Blower's Daughter is an enjoyable ditty, the fact that it crops up all too frequently in the movie, marks its inclusion here as somewhat redundant.

Closer
Overall
Closer will bolster its reputation on the digital format by winning over newcomers with its honest approach and solid performances. There are faults in the movie and these are more noticeable on the repeat viewings that DVD affords. When you add that aspect to the sparse list of extras, the choice between buying or renting becomes slightly easier.


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