Release Date:  December 3, 2004
Rating:  R (for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language)
Genre:  Drama/Romance
Run Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Director:  Mike Nichols
Actors: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Michael Haley

EDITORIAL NOTE:  The following review contains subject matter that may be inappropriate for children and young teens.  Parental supervision is advised.

What do you get when a stripper meets a desperate man who falls in love with a depressive, who in turn marries a sex addict who’s enthralled by prostitutes and – you guessed it – strippers?  Some might say a ménage à quatre, and certainly, it is that.  But all that can really be said of Mike Nichol’s latest endeavor is that it’s one sordid, nihilistic mess.

When Alice (Natalie Portman) and Dan (Jude Law) walk toward one another on a busy London street, they are instantly attracted.  Then Alice is hit by a cab and Dan escorts her to the hospital, which forges a relationship between them, despite the fact that Dan has a girlfriend.  Alice survives with only a few bumps then confesses that she’s a stripper from New York who has come to London on an “expedition.”

Flash forward a few years, and Dan is at Anna’s (Julia Roberts) photographic studio.  She is shooting him for the jacket cover of his new book, a pseudo-biographical novel about Alice’s life.  Dan flirts with Anna and kisses her, then admits that he is married to Alice.  Soon after, Alice arrives and perceives the chemistry between the two.  She insists on having her photo taken, then confronts Anna.

Flash forward a few more months, when Dan is pretending to be Anna, during an Internet instant-message exchange with Larry (Clive Owen), a sex-addicted dermatologist who appears to regularly engage in this activity.  After a particularly vile exchange of sex talk between the two, Dan offers (as Anna) to meet Larry at the aquarium.  Instead, Larry happens upon the real Anna.  Although it quickly becomes clear that they are victims of Dan’s practical joke, they are attracted and spend the afternoon together.

Flash forward three more months, to Anna’s exhibition of photos (which includes one of Alice, crying, when she confronted Anna).  During the cocktail party, Dan discovers that Larry and Anna are dating, which doesn’t stop him from pursuing Anna again.  Meanwhile, Larry flirts openly with Alice.  Flash forward one more year.  Larry is confessing to Anna, after a business trip, that he has slept with a prostitute.  Anna admits that she’s been having an affair with Dan for the past year, while across town, Dan is admitting the same to Alice.  A few months later, Larry runs into Alice in a strip club, where she has returned to work, and the two cavort on in an unabashedly sexual manner.

Had enough?  It gets worse, and it was all I could do to remain in the theatre watching it.  Not only was I thoroughly disgusted, but I was also mortified to think that someone might see me and assume I was enjoying this perversion, rather than reviewing it as part of my job.  The only good thing about that is that I did see it, so you don’t have to.  But do not be surprised if this film gets raves.  After all, so did Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic, even sadomasochistic photos, which earned him the moniker of “art icon” during the '70s and '80s.

“Closer” has stars galore, who all do a very good job with their roles.  Roberts is solid and unusually understated; Portman is all grown up (boy, just watch her spread those legs); Law is a pitiful conundrum; and Owen stands out as a truly evil person.  The highly successful theatre production by Patrick Marber, who also wrote the screenplay, played to sold-out London audiences then opened in New York amid great fanfare.  But set aside the ravings of the liberal literati, and what’s left?  A close-up into the bedrooms of four very sick individuals, with a harrowing message of hopelessness.