Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Patrick Marber
Main Cast: Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen
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So, like I said at the end of yesterday's post, I plan to do three more of these (four if you count this one) between now and the next week or so, so that my "1000 Films You REALLY Should See Before You Die: A Personal Ongoing Canon of my 1,000 Favorites" list can be sitting at 250 movies. Anyway, I'm plucking all of these off my DVD shelf because as one might expect, I own quite a few of my own favorites. I first saw this one when it was released on DVD, back in 2005 (when I was working at my second video store) and fell in love with it right away. Read on...
The film, in my estimation, is just a piecing together of many different conversations between the four main characters. We start out with Daniel (Law) and Alice (Portman) approaching one another, while walking down opposite, equally busy sidewalks. They make eye contact & share a moment and before she knows it, Alice is in the street and getting struck by a taxi cab. Fortunately it's not a serious crash and Alice comes to about ten seconds later, locking eyes with Daniel - this time a lot closer. He escorts her to the hospital, where the two mingle while waiting to get Alice's split open knee tended to. They're introduced and there seems to be some chemistry. We learn that Daniel is an obituary writer and that Alice is a former stripper, now on a journey in England (where the film takes place). Fast forward many months and we find Daniel in a photographer's studio, getting his picture taken for the book jacket of his new novel. The photographer is Anna (Roberts) and the two talk and, once again, Daniel finds chemistry with a complete stranger. The two share a kiss, before Daniel's now girlfriend Alice comes to pick him up. She happens to overhear a conversation the two have, where Daniel requests to meet Anna again, in private. Fast forward again and we meet Dr. Larry (Owen), a dermatologist who we first encounter as he chats with a woman named "Anna" in an adult chat room. What Larry doesn't know, but what we, the audience, do is that "Anna" is actually Daniel. Daniel (as Anna) offers to meet Larry the following day at an aquarium and Larry agrees. When he gets there, he runs into Anna (the real one this time) and after a confusing start, the two hit it off. The film keeps fast forwarding little by little, peeling back layers of this love quadrangle, until all four hearts are shattered, mended and then shattered again.
Man, Mike Nichols seems to be the master of showing us the breaking of hearts and the ins & outs of rocky relations. He started his career off by showing us four very different characters in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and nearly forty years later he introduced us to four more interesting, sometimes hard to watch characters. I wonder why it is that I'm so fascinated by relationships falling apart in movies? I can watch something like "Scenes from a Marriage" and just let my heart break right along with Liv Ullmann, likewise for Natalie Portman in this and somehow, through all of the heartbreak, find a certain fascination. Perhaps it's because I've never REALLY had a broken heart. My wife and I get along more than swimmingly, with barely a disagreement and so maybe is all draws back to fascination of the unknown. Yeah, that makes sense.
The film gives us four fairly complex characters and allows us to turn them over in our hands, feel the rough edges and get to know them for a couple of hours, through the use of, what I consider to be, fantastic character development. Trust me guys, you will be hard pressed to find better acting. Sure, there are probably hundreds of better performances, but let's just suffice it to say that all four of the mains here pour their hearts out for our viewing pleasure and it's a treat to watch all of them. I have to give a special kudos to Julia Roberts, whom I promise you've never seen better! I'm usually not a fan of hers and as far as I'm concerned, she's WAY overrated. But then I watch her in "Closer" and realize maybe she's underrated. She's fantastic here. The scene where she and Clive Owen have a screaming match - Owen prying for details of his wife's affair - is acting gold! Not to mention Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen - which this picture had a hand in making me fall in love with all three. I never really cared much for Law, but after seeing both this and his version of "Alfie" back in '05, it was difficult not to like him. Like Roberts, he's probably never been better than he is here. Portman and Owen are always solid in my opinion, but they shine here too amongst their two peers. For more Portman magic check out "Garden State", from around the same time and for more from Owen, I'd recommend either "Croupier" or "Derailed" (one that never got enough love, if you ask me).
Be a fan of dialogue if you decide to give this one a try, because if you can't appreciate good words being hurdled like whiffle balls between four fantastic characters, then you won't enjoy yourself here. Also, don't expect happy endings or flowery exchanges, as this movie just doesn't have them. It's a hardcore look at relationships, both in and out of the bedroom. Can I also add that for a movie that relies so much on the sexual goings-on of it's four main characters, I think it's amazing that it features not one sex scene and barely features nudity (save for a rogue breast in a strip club scene - but it's of an extra, not even one of our mains). However, male fans of Portman will be delighted to know she shows up in a skimpy thong, during a particularly memorable scene involving Clive Owen in "The Pleasure Room" of a strip club, where he hounds her for her real name while throwing twenties at her. Trust me, Portman has never looked better - and I'm not just talking about the thong scene.
Anyway, it's a gem of a movie, as far as I'm concerned, one that I don't think a lot of people have discovered. If you haven't and if you can handle the downtrodden nature of the whole affair, check it out. I for one love the atmosphere and despite NOT being a depressive myself, usually feel more at home with blue movies. The English location also lends itself to the story, as a cloudy sky is sometimes featured to add that extra bit of gloom to the whole thing. Big thumbs up!
RATING: 8.5/10 Fantastic acting, great characters, realistic dialogue that really makes you feel the passion of the characters make this one an easy choice for my personal list. Welcome aboard.