'Closer' Is Emotionally Violent; 'Hide and Seek' Is Too Difficult to Believe

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THOSE WHO think "Closer" is an endearing date movie will be disappointed. It starts somewhat like a crowd pleasing romantic drama, with the two couples in the story meeting each other in a cute manner.

Alice (Natalie Portman), a stripper who claims shes a waitress, and Dan (Jude Law), an obituary writer who wants to be a novelist, meet each other in the street in London while making flirtatious eye contact. She then gets hit by a car and when she regains consciousness, she greets him with a seductive "Hello, stranger".

Anna (Julia Roberts), a photographer, and Larry (Clive Owen, whose deep set eyes remind us so much of Richard Gomez), a dermatologist, has an even cuter meeting. Larry sees Ana in the London Aquarium and thinks she is the trash-talking woman he met in a cybersex chat room. Was he embarrassed when he found out he was set up by Dan. Take note that the stars are two British men and two American women.

After these amusing meetings, the film takes a sharp turn and turns into a taxing drama about about lovers who cheat on each other and whose relationship become very bitter. Although Dan is already living with Alice, he gets so enamoured with Anna who has chosen to marry Larry. When the betrayals are discovered by their partners, the love that formerly binds them becomes poison that makes them do some very ugly things. This is one of the most emotionally violent films youd ever see, with its dialogue very frank and brutal. The film is based on a play, so its understandably very talky. Were sure local viewers who are more plotoriented will be turned off by the proceedings on screen. But if youre appreciative of good acting, no doubt youd enjoy the performances here, even if the story has no fairy tale ending where the lead characters live happily ever after.

Julia Roberts approaches her role with a maturity we have not seen in her before. Her performance is a beautiful exercise in understatement. As the childish Dan, Jude Law gives the weakest portrayal, aggravated by the fact that hes playing a basically annoying character as a man without scruples. Hes actually more effective in the remake of "Alfie" where he plays another womanizer.

Its really Clive Owen and Natalie Portman who excel here. No wonder they got nominated in the Oscar and won as best supporting actor and actress in the Golden Globe (when they are actually playing lead roles.) As the forever insecure Larry, Owen is given a number of compelling emotional highlights, like when he demands from Julia all the sexual details of lovemaking with Jude and in that scene in the club where she uses Alice to take revenge on Dan. The intensity of his anguish is electrifyingly painted on the screen.

Portman makes the best impression as Alice, a role so vastly different from her Queen Amidala in "Star Wars." She is the first to appear on screen while walking like a carefree waif on the crowded street of London. The film also ends on her with her now walking with more sexuality, making heads turn in New York City. She is truly in love with Dan and what happened to them has a marked effect on her as even the way she walks is now different, what with her naivete and innocence now gone and corrupted.

In truth, all the characters are far from being sympathetic and we dont really get to care for them. But this is familiar territory for Director Mike Nichols, who has previously done films about tortured human relationships like "Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf", "Carnal Knowledge" and "Heartburn." After watching this film, youd no longer be surprised why divorce is so rampant in the U.S. To prevent love from quickly becoming sour and turning into hostility, its important to nurture it. If one is dead serious in cultivating interpersonal relations, there are many support groups a couple can join to save their relationship, How we wish thered soon be a movie that will show how counseling and attending sharing meetings can help couples enhance their marriage better. …