If you like to think of love as pure, pretty, nice or even honest, do not watch "Closer." I think it might be in the dictionary under "disillusioning."

Based on a play by Patrick Marber, "Closer" begins with Anna (Julia Roberts) and Larry (Clive Owen) falling in love thanks to a pornographic practical joke played by Dan (Jude Law.) This, and an all-too-long strip club scene, ensure that this movie is not for the straitlaced either.

The romance between Roberts and Owen is bad news for Law, who abruptly decides he is in love with Roberts, and to heck with his current girlfriend Alice (Natalie Portman.) Portman is the tragic figure of the film, and mainly spends her time proving how young and naive she can be. She tries to strut but only flutters and fidgets, and she's the stripper.

The acting is impressive, if a trifle cliched in places. Owen flirting with Portman while Law flirts with Roberts in the same room, all four spying on their partners, is as brilliant as it is twisted.

Law and Julia Roberts make up one half of 'Closer's' sordid love quadrangle. Photo by Columbia Pictures.Later in the movie, Roberts really looks broken while admitting to an affair, the quintessential woman too weak to resist temptation. She actually utters the line, "If you love me enough, you'll forgive me." Owen really looks about to break something, possibly even Roberts. Law manages to be smug, a sleazebag and desperately in love, all at the same time. As for Portman, she only manages to be pathetic. But that's what she's trying to do, and she does it well.

The movie is a fun lesson in British dialect, though, as well as the euphemisms supposedly used by obituary writers. Ac-cording to Law, who is a journalist, "convivial" means alcoholic, "valued his privacy" means gay, and "enjoyed his privacy" means extremely gay. The musical score is graced by choral and classical mu-sic, with one or two crescendos in amusing spots. And while the movie is set in present-day England, only Law tries to have a British accent, and then only in the first scene.

Portman and Clive Owen flirt with dangerous results. Photo by Columbia Pictures."Closer" shows real human ugliness. Bad manners are present in the entire movie: eavesdropping, spying, snooping through another person's possessions and some really spectacular temper tantrums. Most amusing of all is Law and Owen's macho confrontation. They do everything but thump their chests.

But admitting to an illicit affair is definitely no fun, whether the rejected significant other cries or shouts. Owen, when scorned, gets to bully and bluster in an extremely futile tirade. But he eventually gets his own back in a truly nasty, underhanded and successful way. Law actually looks good in comparison by the end of the movie. He may be an unprincipled, sleazy stalker, but he's honest about it.

At one point, Portman says it's not a war. She couldn't be more wrong. The movie portrays love, every last feint and tactic, as a sneaky, slimy, frustrating and hopeless war.

"Closer" is not a good movie for casual entertainment, but it does have truth in it; a cynical, world-weary truth that love can be ugly and complete trust in a partner is almost impossible. The eye will always wander.

"Closer"

Rated R for graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language.

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen

Directed by: Mike Nichols

Length: One hour 38 minutes

Now playing at: Cannes Cinema Center in Seaside

Short take: A cynical portrait of love, or at least attraction, "Closer" is an intriguing story of passion, drama, love and abandonment involving two couples. Cheating is a way of life and trust is impossible.

Rating: Three stars (out of four)

Movie trivia: Who was originally cast in Natalie Portman's role of Alice?

Answer: Cate Blanchett was originally signed for the role of Alice, but dropped out because of pregnancy.

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