Review: 'Closed Circuit' Offers Little, Adds Nothing to Paranoia Genre
by Jeremy Kirk
August 29, 2013
The paranoia thriller sub-genre is sporadic in what it has to even show us, and for every example such as The Conversation or even the The Parallax View we're given, any number of dull excuses that end up speaking louder than they should find release. Now we have Closed Circuit, a British, courtroom thriller that delves into the "Are they watching my every move" subject with full force. Maybe too quickly. What starts out as a genuinely impressive paranoia thriller quickly falls victim to obvious twists, familiar turns, and a lame cop-out ending that actually satisfies no one. But, hey, they can't all be The Conversation, right?
The ones "being watched" in Closed Circuit are Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as a two-pronged defense team in Britain's "Trial of the Century." After a bomb goes off in a London market killing over a hundred people, a Turkish garage owner is arrested for masterminding the whole thing. As it plays out, there are two sides to the trial, the public hearing and a private hearing where it will be determined if secret evidence will be allowed to be entered. Martin Rose (Bana) takes the defense side in the public hearing while Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall) defends the man in the private court. It doesn't help that the two are former lovers.
That miner quibble is the least of the defense team's problems, though, as it becomes clear very early on that they are being handled, moved by some unseen, governmental force to ensure they make the right decisions. Or, for that matter, the best decisions for the British government.
What helps Closed Circuit, especially early on, is the way the film moves. Steven Knight's screenplay is subtle, yet it always propels itself forward, constantly revealing new information and taking interesting turns to keep the paranoia alive. Director John Crowley (Boy A) has a clear hand in the film's momentum.
The bombing plays out over the opening credits, but it's revealed to us through a collection of security cameras, collaged on the screen like a dozen, different angles of an event. You get to choose which one you watch. To that end, the film is engaging from the moment it starts. Hey, it worked for Michael Clayton. Why not borrow it? Also, put Bana in the back of a taxi...a lot.
It's when those familiarities and obvious plot points take shape that Closed Circuit's connectivity really begins to unravel. Save for a few tense moments - including a car crash that quite literally comes out of nowhere - the film is marred by predictability. Never mind Knight and Crowley's message here that anyone can be involved on any level, the reveals of who's behind what come at the moments you have already figured out.
One character is in here for the sole purpose of being a fatal example to Rose and Simmons-Howe of just how powerful "they" are. This has already been revealed at this stage in the film, but the makers here find it necessary to go through the motions anyway.
The best that comes from Closed Circuit is not in the stuffy - British - courtroom scenes or even the done-those thrills of the paranoia side. Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall stand first in a cast that, believe it or not, makes Closed Circuit worth watching but just barely. Get past Bana's own attempt to work around the British accent, he always delivers boldness, and Hall's performance is classy and nuanced. Even spending much of the film apart, the connection between them is there. I'm sure Crowley had a hand in that, as well.
The rest of the cast rounds out Closed Circuit's edges enough to make it tolerable. Jim Broadbent and Ciarán Hinds fill their respective roles to a nice polish. Even Julia Stiles blends in well with the rest, even if her character is worthless. Raz Ahmed plays up the obvious traits to appear menacing, but it's almost unbelievable enough to keep you guessing about the actual character.
Unfortunately, Closed Circuit isn't a romantic comedy with this stellar cast and fine chemistry between co-leads. Even more unfortunate is that it doesn't work that well in the sub-genre it's chosen, either. The screenplay handles the film's back-and-forth between the trial and the dangerous streets like a lopsided pinball machine, while Crowley's talents as a director don't go much beyond the acting. Closed Circuit doesn't make you paranoid that your government is watching you or even plotting your demise. It makes you wish the characters were in something lighter. A Love, Actually ripoff would have been fine.
Jeremy's Rating: 5.5 out of 10
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