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Good movies getting ‘Closer’

Two outstanding efforts worth seeing, even if you have to go to Benton for one.

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TOO CLOSE: Law (left) and Roberts.
  • TOO CLOSE: Law (left) and Roberts.
In a country with a 60 percent divorce rate, it’s obviously a question people ask themselves every day, whether they want to admit it to their significant other or not: Is the person I’m with the love of my life or just who I’ve settled for? While thinking about such concerns is one thing, acting on that kind of wishful thinking can easily lead one down the path to emotional hell, as seen in director Mike Nichols’ stunningly wrought “Closer.” As funny, perverse, heartbreaking and painful as love itself, it is a hell of a film, one sure to be remembered come Oscar time. The plot is hard to explain, skipping through time and space like a stone across a still pond. In short, it’s the story of two couples that are really a quartet: obituary writer and novelist Dan (Jude Law) and stripper Alice (Natalie Portman); photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) and dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen). Set in London, the film opens with the circumstances that bring these four together. Alice steps in front of a taxi and Dan takes her to the hospital. Skip forward a few months, and Dan, now attached to Alice, is in a studio, being photographed for his book jacket by Anna, after which he confesses that he wants her. Skip forward a few more months, and Larry meets Anna at the aquarium after being tricked by Dan via the Internet into believing that Anna was there waiting for a sexual rendezvous. Once he has them rudimentarily together, Nichols uses the technique of dashing forward in time to let us bear witness to the gravitational pull that slowly tears them apart. I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll fall back on all that high school algebra I thought I’d never use in Real Life: A meets B. C meets D. D and C get married. C leaves D for A. A leaves B for C. B disappears, but D finds B by accident and hooks up with B for a one-night fling. C wants to divorce D so to marry A, but after a sexual romp to get D to sign the divorce papers, C returns to D. A, heartbroken, confronts D and begs for D to release C. D tells A to forget it, but out of pity tells A where to find B. B and A hook back up, but after A grills B about the sex with D, B disappears for good, A is left a crushed shell, and C is left in a soulless marriage to D, pining in the night for A. Got that? If it sounds like an emotional ping-pong game, it is (and, as with my high school algebra homework, I’m almost positive I left some things out). Though the plot burbles like a stream, Nichols and his team of actors do a superb job of assuring the emotional attachment it takes for an audience to keep up with a plot like that. Too, as with any great movie, it’s more than people crying into their restraining orders. Laugh-out-loud funny in places, deliciously vulgar and cruel in others, “Closer,” is as much about falling in love as it is about falling out of love. On fire with emotion, it’s one of those stories that makes you understand that the things that push couples apart are often as powerful and passionate as the things that brought them together. — By David Koon It’s kind of odd that Little Rockians have to drive to the Tinseltown USA multiplex in Benton — not exactly an outpost of progress — to see one of the year’s most controversial and provocative films. While much ado has been made of the scene in “Birth” in which Nicole Kidman bathes naked with and later kisses a 10-year-old boy, it’s a film that’s infinitely more than an attention grabbing, one-trick pony. Awkward, uncomfortable, sad, uncanny and — above all — utterly beautiful, “Birth” is easily one of my favorite films of the year. It’s a pity that some Little Rock theater didn’t have the balls to screen it. “Birth” begins with a stark scene: a man in a black hooded sweatshirt, running through a snowy park. As in many scenes, director Jonathan Glazer lets his camera linger on the man’s back, following him through the twists and turns that weave among the dark trees. It comes as a shock a few minutes later, then, when the still-hooded man unexpectedly clutches his chest, drops to the ground and dies. From there, “Birth” heads into even darker territory. Ten years later, Anna (Nicole Kidman) is at her mother’s birthday party when a young boy (Cameron Bright) comes in, asks her to come in the kitchen and then announces he is Sean, the reincarnation of her dead husband. Incredulous at first, determined to make a new start with her fiance Joseph (Danny Huston), Anna laughs it off. As she tries to stop the boy from all but stalking her, however, she finds that he knows intimate details about the life she made with her dead husband — things he should, by all rights, have no way of knowing. Soon, she begins to believe. While this sounds like the makings of a third-rate potboiler, maybe something starring Kevin Bacon and a lot of creepy music, “Birth” turns out to be an intricate and gorgeous turn on the things we can’t let go of, and what we can make ourselves believe in order to get them back. While Kidman has possibly a hundred lines at most, her face does the talking, helping us transcend the limitations of such sparse dialogue to imagine the grief she once experienced and the confusion she feels inside once Sean supposedly returns. Watching Anna’s disbelief and resignation turn into hope is something like watching a butterfly struggle its way out of cocoon, and Kidman’s work here might well garner her another Oscar nomination. Even though “Birth” is as unsettling and sad a film as I’ve seen in some time, it is still a great movie, easily one of the best I’ve seen all year. It’s well worth the trip down I-30. — By David Koon

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