Closer (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Brainscan

Scoop's notes

"It's a marvel of modern filmmaking in the way it so immediately renders universal human experience almost unrecognizable."

Salon Magazine

Yes, Salon hit the nail right on the head. The defining characteristic of Closer is that it bears no resemblance to reality. Some people commented that it includes no characters with which the audience can identify. That is true enough, but the reason is not because the script contains only unlikable humans. It is because the script contains no humans at all, as Salon noted. It is a four character play in which the four characters are not like any people in any way. We don't really know anything about them. Each of them speaks in flowery apothegms, polished literary witticisms, and prepared stagy phrases. Their exchanges of dialogue are not natural, but rather stagy situations in which each of them invariably makes a witty and clever response when confronted in some way. They are not real people, but symbolic archetypes speaking for all men and/or women. Imagine a scenario in which the characters take turns speaking like JFK's inaugural address, except that their speech is dotted with cussing that would embarrass the U.S. Navy's enlisted men on leave in Manila.

Actors absolutely love this kind of material because it frees them from their most difficult burden, which in drama is realism. When the actors get to play symbolic characters like these, there is no such "burden of realism," since archetypical characters are not three-dimensional. They are there to pontificate the proper thoughts at the proper times. For an actor, it is a return to high school dramatic interpretation competitions, a contest to see who can "show off" the most impressively.

All of that is pretty much indisputable. Some critics failed in their analysis by making the illogical leap from observing that to saying, " ... therefore, it sucks." Whaa ... ? Where is it written that the only acceptable type of character is realistic and believable? Do you believe in Homer Simpson and Mr. Burns? Do they seem real to you? Of course not. What about Shakespeare's Richard III? Do you think he is a reasonable interpretation of the character and motivations of the real Richard III? Do you also think the real king ran around declaiming Shakespearean oratory? Ditto for Blanche DuBois, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Long John Silver, Captain Ahab, Doc Holliday (the fictional version), and just about every character ever created by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edward Albee, or Quentin Tarantino. These grandiose literary archetypes are some of the most memorable characters in the history of fiction, yet all of them are complete bullshit, all of them virtually alien life forms. In fact, there is nothing wrong with that at all. Complete bullshit, or more politely, the distillation of common human types into larger-than-life characters, is the very foundation of fiction, not to mention mythology, and possibly religion as well. If you look up "fiction" in a good dictionary, one of the definitions will be "lies."

It is not necessary to dismiss Closer as incompetent because it is artificial, contrived, superficial, and - did I mention artificial? It is that way because it means to be. It is deliberately mannered, and there are many people who not only like this kind of play, but think that this type of contrived literary construct represents the very apotheosis of man's artistic achievements here on earth. If you are not one of those people, if you're not into that whole Edward Albee thing where the characters mercilessly strip away all the self-respect of all the other characters, it could be a real chore to watch this film. Let's assume for a moment that you're not in the Albee crowd, and you don't want to sit through a bunch of people re-creating "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" without the wit. What else does the film have to offer?

  • Well, it was a stage play, so the artificial characters not only do not speak like people, but they don't even speak like movie characters, as they would in a Quentin Tarantino film. They simply speak like stage characters.

  • As in many plays, there is basically no action, so don't expect to see gunfights and explosions and car chases. The biggest action scene in the film involves two characters typing back and forth in a chat room. Although ESPN covers just about every type of human competition except typing contests, I think we can all imagine how entertaining it is to watch people type. There is a good reason why ESPN doesn't think it will bring in the big numbers as a spectator sport.

  • Not only do the characters in the film rarely move, but they don't even go outdoors, except briefly for the "meet cute."

  • The minimal plot is forgettable and I don't think there will be anything you won't see coming, unless you fall asleep.

This type of project will inherently produce polarized reviews. The British critics (the three cited in the Guardian's summary, plus the BBC) averaged only one and a half stars, and savaged the film. On the other hand, Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli thought it was genius.

How do you determine which camp you belong to?

Well, Closer is two hours of archetypal people talking very frankly and rhetorically to one another as they stand or sit or recline inside of ordinary buildings. Making the film even more aloof is the fact that these are archetypes of cold, self-absorbed, unpleasant people. Closer was an award winning play, and the film is a gift from Mike Nichols to the people who like to see play-to-film adaptations.

  • If you are one of those, you may like the film, which was praised highly by others with similar interests. It even received some pre-Oscar award buzz. Natalie Portman and Clive Owen won Golden Gloves for their performances, and Owen won a BAFTA award as well.

  • If you are not in that group, the film's got nothin' except Natalie Portman's bum, and the DVD has no features at all.



  • No meaningful features.
  • the transfer is an anamorphically enhanced widescreen version, and is excellent.



Several topless strippers are seen in the club where Natalie Portman works.

Portman herself is seen in a tiny thong, basically exposing her entire bum. Mike Nichols reported that there was a very brief topless scene, which he snipped at the last minute.

Brainscan's notes

When Closer came out in 2004, Mrs Brainscan tricked me into seeing it.  She mispronounced the title, knowing that with images of Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage and the incomparable Bruce Sutter in my mind I could be led to this particular pool of water without further threat or bribery.  A cesspool as it turned out.  Closer is tedious.  It is the very definition of tedious.  In God's dictionary, right next to tedious, is a scan of the DVD cover to Closer.  And think what that took.  Clive Owen is God.  The rest of Sin City is bang-up good stuff, but the long sequence with Clive Owen is just flat-out brilliant.  He is amazing.  I wish I was Clive Owen.  And in Closer he is tedious...what he says is tedious, what he does is tedious.  Maybe the sight of Natalie Portman's private parts stunned would have stunned me, I am
sure...and so we can blame her for it all.  Seems only fair since she gave up the goods but convinced the powers that be to cut or cover those goods right up. It's all her fault.

People talk in this movie...all the time for minutes on end.  This is a movie about the chattering class, but the class is held in high esteem rather than the contempt it deserves.  One spends about twenty minutes in this movie, listening to people to chatter and wondering WTF is going on.  But one gets over that and spends the rest of it wondering if it is ever going to end.  You saw other people leaving the theater as you came in so you suspect it will end someday, but you begin to have your doubts.  Just as you think, Mission Accomplished...with the mission being to survive...another insurgent conversation pops up, filled with anger and betrayal and angst so thick you can scribble on its surface with a big ol crayon.  Yes you can.

Only two scenes save it from being entirely unwatchable.  In both, Ms Portman plays a stripper.

A noble profession, cinema stripper.  Usually very interesting people with hearts of gold and bodies to match, and the willingness to let us see both.  Not Nat's character.  Shallow and stupid and ready to pull aside bra or panties only when the camera is pointed at Mr Owen's head.  What could have saved the first scene is a different camera technique.  I am thinking, perhaps, it might be re-shot entirely from Mr. Owen's
point of view.  Just a suggestion, mind you.  And the second scene, when her erstwhile boyfriend finds her dancing at the strip club?  Shoot, just make that puppy go on for another couple of minutes, with Nat parading around in a thong, showing off the greatest looking bum that is not otherwise attached to Jessica Alba...I would have paid to watch that movie again and again and again. 

But no.  The director and Nat had other ideas.  I do hold to the theory that no movie is so beyond salvation that a nekkid Natalie Portman couldn't save it.  But Closer challenges this conclusion.  An almost nekkid Nat comes nowhere close to saving this film.  I would trade it, Nat's rumpus included, for a movie about a closer like Fingers or Gossage or the incomparable Bruce Sutter. 

There were two other films entitled Closer made in 2004 ...

...maybe one of them is what I am looking for. 

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a half   stars. James Berardinelli 3.5/4, Roger Ebert 4/4. (Berardinelli named it to his top ten list for the year.)

  • It was nominated for two Oscars, for the best supporting performances by Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.

  • British consensus out of four stars: between one and a half stars and two stars. Independent 8/10, Guardian 2/10, Times 3/10, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $27 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $20 million more. It did only $33 million in the United States, but was a minor hit overseas, with $75 million.

Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Requires appreciation for or at least tolerance of a certain kind of talky, conventional, artificial dialogue exchanged in stage plays. Anyone lacking that appreciation is advised that there is no other there there, except for Natalie Portman's bum. The DVD is featureless.

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