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‘Closed Circuit’ bores in theaters with cheap thrills

Published: Monday, September 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 01:09

The government is watching us — all of us. This sentiment, particularly resonant for audiences at a time when WikiLeaks and the NSA are prominent parts of today’s zeitgeist, pervades the new British film “Closed Circuit.”

Directed by John Crowley and written by Steven Knight, the film is fiercely British. It takes place in London, where a devastating bomb kills 120 innocent people in a quaint marketplace. The suspect, a drug-dealing immigrant named Farroukh Erdogan, is detained. However, things get sticky when the government steps in; the information that will be used against Erdogan is so classified that it cannot be shared with either the suspect or his lawyer. Consequently, both a lawyer and a “special advocate” — who is privy to the classified information used in his case — represent Erdogan. The only rule for the two attorneys, made painfully clear throughout the movie, is that once the classified information is revealed the two may not have any contact.

Enter lawyer Martin Rose, played by Eric Bana, and special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe, played by Rebecca Hall. In the first of many predicable twists, the audience is clued into the fact that the pair had an affair in the past, one that jeopardized both of their careers and destroyed Rose’s marriage. More than ever, their relationship becomes particularly cumbersome. In order to retain their positions on the high-profile case, the lawyers make a pact to keep their past relationship confidential. The film, at first a seemingly character-driven drama about the relationship between Rose and Simmons-Howe, quickly delves into darker, heavier themes — including governmental surveillance and secrecy — as viewers catch wind of a cover-up.

Sadly, “Closed Circuit,” which has tremendous potential, is burdened by excessive exposition and unnecessary twists. Moreover, the twists are so laboriously produced that they create more questions than can be answered, making the movie feel contrived and poorly crafted. At a time when immaculately made political thrillers like “House of Cards” (2013) are frequent across television and in theaters, films like “Closed Circuit” are forced to flounder. Though “Closed Circuit” has all of the elements of a proper thriller, the film turns out more like a sloppy pseudo-thriller: simply and strikingly generic. 

For all its faults, “Closed Circuit” has some redeeming qualities. First, the scenes are absolutely beautiful. Set in London and showcasing the gothic and imposing architecture of the city, the cinematography manages to transform an iconic location and make it unfamiliar. Lofty and nuanced shots generate paranoia and tension. This quality almost manages to shake “Closed Circuit” from its foundation; however, the film remains grounded in its weak screenplay and plodding progression. 

Most unfortunately, the stellar performances by Bana and Hall are completely overshadowed by the basic plot. Hall’s role, in particular, is intense and complicated, unapologetically ambitious and simultaneously vulnerable. Among the supporting cast, acclaimed British thespian Jim Broadbent gives a surprising and show-stopping performance as the Attorney General. With a devilish grin and sharp suit, Broadbent’s character personifies governmental immorality and omniscience. The Attorney General forces the action at multiple times in the film, creating confusion and causing chaos, all the while retaining his cool exterior.

Ultimately, “Closed Circuit” is a film that could have been much better. With a great cast, amazing cinematography and a compelling idea, the film should have been memorable. This movie has been made a thousand times, in a thousand different iterations — some worse, but most much better. What makes this film lackluster is its unsurprising and unimaginative screenplay. Political thrillers like “Closed Circuit” simply cannot succeed when this level of predictability mars them.

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