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Intimate Strangers 

Raw film gets up close and personal

How much one enjoys Closer depends on how charitable one feels toward the four characters at the center of Mike Nichols' lacerating new film. These men and women, originally created by scripter Patrick Marber for his stage play of the same name, are alternately petty, vicious, narcissistic, perverse, illogical and ill-tempered. Viewers not interested in shifting through the rubble of these people's immorality in an effort to locate some common truths will have no use for this picture, surely the most divisive film about modern relations since Eyes Wide Shut. Others willing to dig deeper in an attempt to understand (if not always empathize with) these recognizably flawed human beings will be rewarded with some choice dialogue and a quartet of finely etched portrayals - not to mention a heady buzz that will remain long after the movie's over.

Set in London, the movie centers on two British males and two American females -- all strangers when the story opens. Dan (Jude Law) is a caddish obituary writer who falls for sweet-natured stripper Alice (Natalie Portman); Anna (Julia Roberts) is a moody photographer who ends up attached to dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen, nailing the film's most complex role). With time jumps that will catch the daydreaming viewer off guard, the film tracks their evolving -- or should that be devolving? -- relationships, as Dan chases Anna, Larry sniffs around Alice, and all four characters take the notion of "brutal honesty" to such an extreme that their words suddenly qualify as deadly weapons.

Many will criticize the film because the characters' motivations don't always make sense and their actions aren't often in their own best interests. And that differs from real life exactly how?

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