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Dan helps Alice after a minor accident. After using her in his novel, he's photographed by Anna. Through an internet prank, Dan gets Anna together with Larry, before Larry finds Alice in a strip-club…


Mike Nichols has always been drawn to the mysteries of sexual entanglement as expressed in rich, theatrical dialogue. In Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, he stuck close to Edward Albee's play about a nastily complex two-couple evening; in Carnal Knowledge, he shot cartoonist Jules Feiffer's original script about two men and their contrasting attitudes to women over the decades.

Closer, scripted by Patrick Marber from his own play, could just have been a smart scrambling of these two earlier films. But it's far more than that, thanks to its fiercely distinctive voice and a powerhouse ensemble more than capable of holding its own against the much-lauded teams of Virginia Woolf (a film where the entire cast was Oscar-nominated) and Carnal Knowledge.

After the lightweight Lothario of Alfie, Jude Law's Dan is a much more involving character; restless and pathetic, sad and sadistic (his internet come-on to Clive Owen's Larry is horribly comic) and an always-crushed romantic. It's Law's best screen work to date, and he provides the anchor for awards-calibre scenes from Owen (who played Dan in the West End stage version) and an astoundingly sensual Portman (playing a pole-dancer and fulfilling the fantasies of too many sad Star Wars fans).

As for Roberts, if she's the palest of the quartet, it's because one of the most desirable women in the world invests her role with such a haunted chill you can't imagine Law leaving Portman for her or Owen being driven to such hilariously fiendish lengths to get her back. Nichols and Marber both have a background in comedy double acts, Nichols having exchanged neurotic barbs with former collaborator Elaine May and Marber having been Alan Partridge's all-purpose chat show guest. So Closer is a succession of tart two-hander sketches, strung together by wild sex and steady relationships, which skips over the months to see only the meet-cute and dissolve-ugly moments in the romantic square dance of these four people.

It’s almost as structurally daring as Memento, demanding that the audience fills in the gaps. And, like Virginia Woolf and Carnal Knowledge, or even The Graduate, it’s also frank enough to push back the boundaries of how explicit non-porno film can be a