CULTURE : Four-Play Is Sizzling Stuff; Damon Smith and Emma Brady Review the Best of the Week's DVDs to Buy or Rent

The Birmingham Post (England), June 3, 2005 | Go to article overview

CULTURE : Four-Play Is Sizzling Stuff; Damon Smith and Emma Brady Review the Best of the Week's DVDs to Buy or Rent


Byline: Damon Smith and Emma Brady

Closer

Cert 15, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, DVD pounds 19.99 **** Relationships are a messy business; painfully so in Mike Nichols' elegant and eloquent film version of Patrick Marber's award-winning stage play. Dan (Jude Law), who co-writes the obituaries column for a major London newspaper, falls for American stripper Alice (Natalie Portman), and writes a novel about their relationship.

During the shoot for the book jacket image, Dan flirts with the photographer, Anna (Julia Roberts), who rebuffs his advances. She ends up with dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen). However, Dan vigorously pursues Anna, craving her entirely for himself, setting in motion a chain of events which sees these four characters continually cross paths, and rebound in unexpected directions.

Closer is a film in which all of the fireworks are verbal. There's scant opportunity for director Nichols to impose any of his own personality on the film; he simply has to remain focused tightly on the characters as they wriggle from one uncomfortable revelation to the next.

Roberts brings a palpable fragility to Anna; her centre-piece scene, in which she nervously attempts to break up with Larry, is riveting for her obvious discomfort and guilt. Law's pretty boy novelist is the least endearing of the quartet - vain, insensitive, spiteful, manipulative - but his unsympathetic portrayal makes Dan's inevitable comeuppance all the more delicious.

Portman continues her fine body of work with a scintillating performance as a woman attuned to the power of her sexuality. In the strip club scenes, she oozes confidence; a carefully constructed facade which crumbles as her relationship comes apart at the seams. Best of all is Owen. As the Neanderthal, sex-driven doc, he blazes brilliantly across every frame of the screen, evidently relishing every loaded syllable of Marber's screenplay

Ray

Cert 15, Universal Pictures Video DVD pounds 19.99 DVD box set with Genius: A Night For Ray Charles pounds 27.99/VHS pounds 14.99) *** Unlike the live-wire American pianist and singer on whom it is based, Taylor Hackford's measured if overlong biopic doesn't always hit the emotional high notes, despite a sensational, Oscar-winning performance from Jamie Foxx.

Written by James L White, Ray charts the musician's meteoric rise to fame, beginning with his traumatic childhood in '30s Albany, Georgia.

Five-year-old Ray watches helplessly as his young brother drowns in a bathtub, rooted to the spot while his mother Aretha (Sharon Warren) glimpses the unfolding tragedy. Two years later, he goes blind. Fast-forwarding to the swinging '50s, Ray (Foxx) is introduced to the allure of drugs on the burgeoning music club scene; by the mid-'60s, he weans himself off cocaine, but not before his support of the civil rights movement leads to a concert ban in his home state of Georgia.

Refreshingly, Hackford's film doesn't relive the past through rose-tinted glasses: Charles is not portrayed as a saint by any means, conducting affairs behind the back of his wife Della Bea Robinson (Kerry Washington).

Foxx is riveting, lip-synching beautifully to Charles's original recordings and effortlessly capturing the charisma and energy of the man. Warren dazzles in her few minutes of screen time and Regina King, Aunjanue Ellis and Washington bring sensuality and spark to the three women in Ray's self-destructive life.

Not once does the film beg us to feel pity for the musician because of his physical impairment - he survived because he had to. Only a final flashback - Ray's beyond-the-grave reconciliation with his mother and dead brother - rings hollow. The DVD includes the theatrical version of the film and an extended version with over 25 minutes of additional footage

Dear Frankie

Cert 12 Pathe Out: now *** Shona Auerbach's film is a touching drama which poses the question of how far a mother should go to protect her child's happiness. …

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