The Red Right Hand
  www.theredrighthand.co.uk





CLOSER
If You Believe In Love At First Sight... Take A Closer Look

Director
Mike Nichols
Starring
Natalie Portman
Jude Law
Julia Roberts
Clive Owen

Where to start with this one? As good-a-place as any is in the queue for your ticket. In any cinema you'll be blasted with posters of this film and no doubt there will be some bloody couple somewhere talking about it (or more accurately talking about what they think of the actors/actresses). As you're standing there admiring your surroundings and trying to wait patiently for the increasingly annoying trainee to suddenly know the till system inside-out, you start to ask yourself, 'What film am I seeing again? I know who's in it and I can see the posters but what is this film about? Think back, hmm... trailer: Some pappy dramatic romance about two couples. I remember seeing scenes with Natalie Portman stripping. I remember Clive Owen. I remember I hate Clive Owen. That's about it.'

Finally you've bought your ticket and found your seat. The lights dim and the presentation starts. It opens simply enough, direct to the point. Natalie Portman walking down the streets of London shares a fleeting glance with Jude Law. They smile at each other and she gets smacked down by a cab. This cute little bonding begins and you start to see the birth of a lovely little relationship (aww). All of a sudden the film jumps forward a year but you only realise this from what the characters are saying. This was fine for me and made for interesting plot-play but I could see couples' heads bobbing together as they tried to figure out what was going on and where the film was now (a recurring event, I'm afraid). Slowly information about the missing year is leaked out and we now know that Dan's [Law] written a semi-biographical/fictional work about his girlfriend and how they met. Prepping for the release of his book, Dan finds himself in a studio-flat in London, having a headshot photographed by Anna [Roberts]. They begin to flirt a little and end up kissing. Now forgive me but having not seen any of the Ďgood timesí -except for the 'getting to know you' parts at the start- in Dan & Alice's [Portman] relationship I can't really feel much for either character. Iím simply lead to the conclusion that Annaís a bit weak (though she is single and eventually resists Danís approaches she does cave in momentarily) and Dan's not good enough for Alice. Dan confesses his feelings for Anna and tries to tell her that heís in love with her, that no one else matters to him. Anna pushes him away and ends up leaving. Shortly after Danís exit Alice emerges from an adjoining room - turns out she was listening from the other room and begins to cry but insists on being photographed by Anna.

Time passes again and we're finally introduced to the last character, Larry [Owen]. Dr. Larry's a pervert who likes to talk dirty online (no doubt the content of what's said between Larry & Dan will be a key point for thousands of reviews). We see him in an office in the hospital as he starts to talk to a mystery-girl online. As the audience, we're permitted to know that it is in fact Dan, pretending to be Anna. After a series of dirty words, phrases and what can only be believed as a lie from Larry they arrange to meet. The next day he goes along to the aquarium and coincidentally meets the real Anna -who'da thunk it? Assuming that he's talking to the slutty girl he met online he begins to make a fool of himself for our viewing pleasure. Now, this is where the story falters excessively. First of all we have to believe that Anna would just happen to be there at the time arranged by Dan & Larry, well alright, that could happen. Then after Larry looks a complete prat Alice manages to figure out exactly who's the guilty culprit for playing this joke on the doctor, well maybe but it's a little far fetched. Lastly after all his perverted insinuations she starts to fall for him, knowing that he's a man who goes online and cybers with random girls! Now come on. Unless Marber is trying to imply something about women or Americans he's just made the biggest error in his play. However being so caught up in the cuteness and comedy of it all you simply allow yourself to believe it and flow with the story. The plot carries on jumping forward by months and years until the couples split, swap around a bit and then get back together -not wanting to give anything away- however by the end of the movie only one couple will actually end up together.

The first thing I noticed was the music, there wasn't any. You get the same song for the title and credit sequences, a rather quirky playful tune for the online cyber sex scene and some background music in the strip club but that's it. I have to say I was extremely impressed with this, music is such a key element to the success of a film, but being a play the dialogue is so crisp that it doesn't need to be accompanied by music, everything just flows so beautifully. To be perfectly honest it makes a nice change to have a script that's strong enough to carry a film without the constant need to add some horrible dingy 80's throwback saxophone music during films of this nature.

Another thing was the central focus on the key characters, but this is simply carried over from the play. The only other credited characters are 2-3 people you would simply consider extras. This is perfect for the storyline, no man likes to think about anyone else ever having had sex with his girlfriend/wife (we don't, it's a sort of possession thing) and the encounters between Dan & Larry are purely driven by this and it works so well, both being mostly cool and restrained but at the same time so uncontrollably mad at the other. There isn't a lot of interaction between Anna & Alice, they mostly avoid each other and channel through the men in the relationships (anyone who's ever been in this situation or knows anyone that has will understand that girls are never as direct as guys when it comes to this). The rest of the venting takes place between the current couples as they try and work their way in and out of the situations that they've found themselves in. Confused yet? It's really not all that bad when you watch it but I'm desperately trying not to spoil this for anyone.

One of the big hypes of the film was the casting of the actors/actresses and how this 'type of film' is deviating from what they would usually be cast. What people mean to say is, "This film uses filthy words and expressions that are used a lot in people's lives (not all but a lot) and they don't simply whisper them subtly, they're broadcast from the highest peak! You should be ashamed if you derive any pleasure from watching this film!" So when you leave the cinema you start wondering, 'Wait, am I now a pervert because I enjoyed that film? Is love nothing more than an expansion on sex? Are any relationships safe? Is it so easy for one person in a relationship to fall in and out of  love/lust so carelessly. Where's my girlfriend/wife? Is she with another man, should I be worried that she is?' You don't feel that the film was in any way clever or interesting but that it almost spits on everything that love supposedly stands for. This is probably because all you see are the moments of stress and strain that the couples undergo, there's no grounding, no faithful life, just the betrayal and hurt that you see onscreen.

To summate I can only say that this is a fabulously directed film, brought to the screen with such finesse by veteran Nichols and made believable by the astounding work of the cast. I'm afraid this film is still riddled with faults and it can't even hold a candle to Nichol's previous works such as The Graduate. Similar to The Graduate this film deals with taboo sex in a very open way which is meant to have this incredible shock-factor, unfortunately people are pretty desensitised these days and what we're seeing may have shocked and appalled in the 60's or 70's but not anymore, it will take a lot more than naughty words and implied nudity to disgust the 21st Century cinema-goer, sorry. That aside this is still an amazing story with interwoven twists that leave you with hundreds of questions and few answers. Probably a good one to see in a group, not with your loved one. I'd suggest if you go as maybe two-three couples! Then you can discuss it at great length down the pub later and possibly even get slapped for your comments about Portman's stripping.

Release Date:
13 January 2005

The Scene To Look Out For:
When Larry returns home from a dermatology meeting and confesses to his new wife (Anna) that he slept with a prostitute while away. The way he's so forward and open about what he's done, wanting there to be no secrets between them, then to find out that she's been seeing Dan for over a year. Seeing him fly off-the-handle and ask her such depredating questions is such a nice slice of realism - this may sound odd or perverse, but so many films glaze over how people react to these sorts of things, Larry seems to ask the questions he feels he needs answering.

Notable Characters:
I was going to go for Alice but after the final scene in the American airport I switched to Larry, simply because out of all of them, he was the most honest. He may have been a rather odd and perverse man and a little aggressive in his nature at times but he was the only one who remained true to the relationship completely.  When it was announced that Clive Owen had been cast to play Dwight in the upcoming release Sin City (which I can't wait for!) I was extremely annoyed, mostly because I haven't seen Owen prove his worth in anything yet, but this was it - the role that showed me what he's capable of. Plus, he was funny.

Highlighted Quote:
"Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood!"

In A Few Words:
"Beautiful vulgarity in this semi-romantic war of words"

Total Score:
8/10


Matthew Stogdon