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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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In Movies & TV Reviews

Eric Bana stars in the government paranoia movie "Closed Circuit," now playing.

"Closed Circuit": I spy a dry political paranoia thriller


The ads sell the new British political thriller "Closed Circuit" (not to be confused with "Short Circuit," though I would watch a movie about Johnny Five battling a government cover-up in a heartbeat. Wink wink, Hollywood) as coming from the producers of 2011's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." If I was the latter – a multiple Oscar nominee – I wouldn't be particularly flattered by this comparison.

After all, "Tinker, Tailor" was a tenaciously dense, moody thriller with an incredible eye for details, both in the visuals and the narrative. Yeah, I had to consult Wikipedia afterwards to figure out what had actually happened, but it was a complex puzzle that was still fascinating to watch even if you had no idea how the pieces fit together.

"Closed Circuit" may share a couple of producers (and veteran Irish actor Ciarán Hinds) with Tomas Alfredson's twisty little project, but that's just about it. The care for the details and little stuff didn't come along, and as any good government conspiracy would know, it's the little stuff that matters.

I'll give the film this: It certainly opens with a (literal) bang. A collection of closed circuit cameras ominously look over a crowded London market filled with everyday folk. Some are just shilling their products. Others are discussing life. Slowly, a white truck pulls into the scene, and before anyone can get too riled up, it explodes.

After the shock wears off, the London police manage to arrest Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), who they believe to be the mastermind of the attack. It's a rather tensely crafted opening minute, followed by 95 rather tediously crafted ones.

The focus immediately turns to the trial of the century. Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is the suspect's newly appointed defense lawyer, taking over for a colleague who killed himself (or did he?!). Since the case involves sensitive evidence that could put national security at risk, Martin must work alongside Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), a special advocate who will be the only one given access to the secret material and will argue that material in a closed courtroom session.

The two also happen to be bickering former lovers, a coincidence (or is it?!) that would be considered a big no-no in eyes of the court if found out. The two shouldn't have much to worry about considering their lack of perceptible chemistry. Hall is a compelling screen presence and sharp with the dialogue, but the usually reliable Bana is bland here (dare I say Eric Banal? Ugh, terrible pun). Any time the romance takes center stage, the film stops dead in its tracks.

Anyways, as you may have guessed, there's predictably more to the case than meets the eye. Martin and Claudia soon find themselves tracked by cabs, narrowly dodging mysterious accidents and secretly chatting with an intrepid New York Times reporter (Julia Stiles).

For a government paranoia movie to work, the elaborate conspiracy at its core needs to be something plausible, something they could get away with. Screenwriter Steven Knight ­– previously behind "Eastern Promises" and "Dirty Pretty Things," two much better movies about secrets – unfortunately loses sight of this about midway through "Closed Circuit."

What's surprising isn't that the government is covering something up. It's that they seem so inept at it. The pile of bodies surrounding Martin and Claudia's case eventually becomes a bit silly. A super secret government conspiracy should have more secretive ways of dispatching its enemies than sending a bunch of goons chasing down alleys and breaking into apartments. I know the public is easily distracted by sports and embarrassing VMA performances, but I think people would eventually catch onto the fact that everyone related to this case seems to end up dead.

Not that our leads are much more intelligent, meeting up at a football match in plain sight to discuss the secret conspiracy when everyone in the country knows they're not supposed to be in communication with one another (British law strangely requires the defense and the special advocate not to communicate with one another). There's even people clearly milling around in the background. Conspiracies and filmmaking are very similar: It's in the details.

Perhaps these things would be less of a distraction if "Closed Circuit" was a bit more engrossing. Director John Crowley ("Intermission") has a decent eye alongside his cinematographer Adriano Goldman, but the film is sleepy and drab. And when a movie is dull, the mind wanders, asking questions about why the clues seem so flimsy and why the plot seems excessively convoluted yet empty. And why would secret assassins use a garrote wire when that would seem to leave an obvious imprint and raise more suspicions?

Luckily, the idea of unknown, all-powerful forces pulling the strings no matter what is an inherently creepy idea, so even with all of the logic gaps, there's some mild tension to be had. Crowley and Goldman nicely hint at the feeling of being watched with some shots quietly observing from far away and pulled from the titular cameras. There's certainly more of a sense of paranoia in this film than in, say, "Paranoia."

Though it's a small part, Jim Broadbent also manages to be intimidating and pleasantly jolly, often within seconds of one another.

The "ripped from the headlines" relevance of "Closed Circuit" – what with wire tapping, drones and Snowden making the news routinely – might get the blood pumping a bit extra (Lord knows the movie needs it sometimes), but only because we know real-life people in power are so much more frighteningly capable of getting what they want.



Theaters and showtimes for Closed Circuit
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