(In theaters, February 2005) Two men, two women and a full-contact emotional destruction derby: Closer is one mean piece of work best appreciated as a performance showcase than anything profound on the nature of love. For one thing, keep in mind that this is an adaptation of a stage play: The unusual structure of the film, following short dramatic moments over the course of several years, is a direct off-shot of this, and so it the script’s reliance on dramatic dialogue. (Closer doesn’t spend much time showing us what happens when things go well for months at a time). As an excuse for showy acting, it’s nearly perfect: all four main players do well, but Clive Owen steals the show (as usual) over Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Julia Roberts. Still, don’t read too much in the characters: “What are you, twelve?”, says one at the beginning and so it’s difficult to imagine that we’re seeing the actions of anything but the puppets of a writer. If there are some terrific dialogue scenes throughout the entire film, it’s hard to connect with the impulsive actions and juvenile attitudes displayed by the characters. Closer, ironically, rebuffs any attempt to come closer to the characters: they are best admired, like the script, as a performance piece.