I have never liked a movie directed by Mike Nichols more than Closer. Marber's detachment perfectly suits the man who, in this 2 December 2004 interview, said of his relationship with Diane Sawyer:
Love involves leaving each other intact, rather than trying to absorb the other person… My wife for instance doesn't answer the question, "What are you thinking?" … It's very interesting. I'm not as good at not answering as she is, but it's important to remember that you don't have to answer, "What are you thinking?" The point is that it's what you're thinking. It's not what you're saying. It's yours.
As a director, Nichols has almost always been too sure a showman — you never needed to ask what he was thinking. Here he scores all Marber's points but with Marber's address (rather than, say, Neil Simon's, among the playwrights Nichols has been associated with). Marber hits everything just enough — we're not being petted or pummeled. And Nichols doesn't treat Closer like a surefire hit or a costly literary product. In his 70s and apparently having relaxed into his reputation and talent, he treats Marber's play with the honest respect he brought to his brisk, imaginatively engaged performance in David Hare's filmed reading of Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner (1997).
Nichols does open the play up, but not obtrusively. As beautifully designed and shot as Closer is, I never felt it was merely picturesque. His handling of the adaptation is supple to the point of liquidity. He shoots the much-talked-about cybersex correspondence with an adept friskiness, setting it to the Overture of Rossini's La Cenerentola. Where the play uses tricky staging to juxtapose the two couples' break-ups, Nichols takes advantage of the intercutting possible in movies in a way that keeps you especially alert. The play flows from one set-piece to another, carrying the whole range of ideas and emotions along with it.
The actors are more restricted by the combination of Marber's irony and artifice and Nichols's seasoned dexterity than the actors in the looser, more exploratory (1975), which is farce reimagined in naturalistic terms (and which did not begin life on the stage). This is not to say that actors can't give fine performances.
Even Jude Law is more effective than usual. It's usually a problem that Law always manages concentration without density. Here it's just right for Dan, the romantic cipher, the fantasy lover who can't survive outside the fantasy. (As Larry says to him, he doesn't know the first thing about love because he doesn't understand compromise.) The still-insurmountable problem for Law, with his fibreless blond English dreaminess, is that he doesn't work to connect with the audience and has generated a lot of ill will. He isn't actor enough to make Dan's weakness memorable (which it might be if he were as talented at comedy as Ewan McGregor) and so he comes off as pathetically weak, an empty package for discarding.