"We're happy. Aren't we?"
With Closer, Mike Nichols returns to a theme he first explored in his 1966 directorial debut Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and again in later pictures such as The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge, how it is that love can make people desperately miserable. The movie is headlined by Julia Roberts but functions as the antithesis of the actress's usual fuzzy romantic comedies. The film presents love as a messy, usually unsatisfying process whereby needy people exploit each other's insecurities, and where the meet-cute doesn't necessarily lead to a happily-ever-after.
Closer tells the story of four strangers whose paths cross in London and whose love lives grow entangled in all sorts of complicated ways. Jude Law stars as lowly obit writer and failed novelist Dan, a selfish prick with little concern for anyone else's feelings. The movie opens with his chance encounter with Alice (Natalie Portman), a self-described waif and sometimes stripper whose emotional neediness feeds into Dan's ego. They get together and seem stable for a time, until Dan meets Anna (Roberts), a portrait photographer with a guilt complex. Dan is immediately drawn to her, mostly because he wants anything he can't have, but Anna soon links up with Larry (Clive Owen), a smug doctor whose obnoxiousness has a brutal honesty about it. These four characters eventually criss-cross relationships (Dan with Anna and Larry with Alice) and then back again, at no time any of them ever truly finding happiness.
The film is about self-absorbed people desperate for intimacy but never satisfied when they get it. They all make each other miserable, their unhappiness almost a drug that drives them to continually screw up anything good in their lives. Anna's guilt acts like a fetish, motivating her to ruin relationships so that she can wallow in it a little longer. Larry gloats about his infidelity as a way to ensure that his marriage ends on his own terms. Dan lives strictly in the moment, needing instantaneous pleasure and not caring about the consequences of his actions. And Alice uses her fragility as a trap, ensnaring men into wanting to protect her.
Adapted by screenwriter Patrick Marber from his own stage play, the piece still has a bit of staginess about it, with only four speaking roles and a limited number of locations. Nichols attempts to open it up a little bit by bringing a few scenes outdoors and adding some cinematic time shifts. Like the best of his films, Closer is an incisive character study with nuanced performances, sharp dialogue, and insightful dramatic turns. Just don't expect it to be the most uplifting movie you'll ever see.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Closer debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The disc automatically opens with a lengthy Blu-ray promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Closer Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG4 AVC compression on a dual-layer 50 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 with tiny letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
All things considered, this is a fairly solid transfer. The movie's photography is a bit on the soft side, but visible detail in things like skin pores or facial hair is well captured. Close-up shots are especially striking. The general color balance is somewhat drab, especially in flesh tones, however this seems to be intentional. Specific colors such as Natalie Portman's red hair or the gelled lighting inside the strip club pop off the screen more vibrantly. The picture has rich black levels and fine contrasts, making for a pleasing sense of depth. Light film grain is present throughout, but is rendered well and isn't noisy. The most problematic issue with the transfer is some recurrent edge ringing which is mildly distracting in many parts of the movie, unfortunately.
The Closer Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in uncompressed PCM 5.1 format or in standard Dolby Digital 5.1. The PCM track has nice musical fidelity, with expansive stereo separation and a touch of low bass extension. The film doesn't have a particularly showy sound mix, however. It's mostly dialogue, which comes across crisply and clearly. The surround channels are rarely ever engaged. The soundtrack is perfectly good for what it's meant to be.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Czech, Polish, Croatian, Slovene, Turkish, Greek, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Thai, or Korean.
Alternate language tracks - Italian DD 5.1 or PCM 5.1, French DD 5.1, or Russian DD 5.1. An English Descriptive Audio Track is also available for the vision impaired, and it's a hoot during the dirtier parts of the movie.
The bonus features on this Blu-ray title are recycled from the Superbit DVD edition, which is to say that it has almost nothing.
Missing from the DVD is a theatrical trailer.
- Music Video (5 min., SD) - "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice. The video is a mix of original footage and clips from the movie, and is presented pillarboxed in the center of the frame with black bars on all 4 sides.
Hidden on the disc is a selection of HD test patterns. You can access these by entering 7669 on your remote control from the disc's main menu. Use the Skip button to page through the patterns.
If not exactly a happy night of movie-watching, Closer is a downbeat but compelling character drama with excellent performances from an A-list cast. The Blu-ray has nice picture and sound, though no bonus features of worth. It rates a solid recommendation.
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