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Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 05:12 pm

Closed Circuit a gripping thriller for our times

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Eric Bana as Martin Rose in Closed Circuit.
PHOTO COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES

As conspiracy thrillers go, John Crowley’s Closed Circuit is one of the best in recent memory. Tautly told and smartly executed, the film rips a page from today’s headlines. It not only opens with a brutal terrorist attack but then focuses on the lack of trust that exists between citizens and their governments. What with high-level scandals being uncovered constantly, key pieces of information being redacted or withheld and the definition of “transparency” differing greatly between the powers that be and those they lord over, this is a story that could unfold in any country in the world though it is suggested here that cover-ups occur more frequently within larger nations as they tend to have more to lose on a global scale.

The attack that plays out during the opening credits - an open air market in downtown London is bombed – plays directly to our fears. It shows that no matter what level of security might exist (the screen is split into 15 different panels to show the point of view from 15 different security cameras), we’re still vulnerable to that which is commonplace, the element we take for granted and simply overlook. A suspect (Denis Moschitto) is quickly taken into custody – a bit too quickly perhaps – and is assigned a court ordered barrister. Six months later, that lawyer commits suicide and a new attorney is assigned to the case, one Martin Rose (Eric Bana). He’ll handle the public trial while a private trial will be handled by Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall). They are told that evidence will be revealed that is of a sensitive nature, so much so that were it to become common knowledge, it could jeopardize England’s national security. That Rose and Simmons-Howe cannot have any contact with one another to collaborate and share the evidence they have, is yet another fly in the ointment. That they were once lovers further muddies the waters.

It becomes apparent very quickly that there’s far more going on than meets the eye and as Rose and Simmons-Howe dig deeper into their defendant’s case history, they can’t help but notice certain little things in their lives that give them pause. Like, how is it that Rose, in a city as large as London, is able to hail the same cab three times over the course of two days? And is the new security guard at Simmons-Howe’s apartment building really filling in because the regular guy is sick? And just why are books out of place in her home? These occurrences and many more put them both on edge and increase their paranoia as they become convinced a faction that means them harm is watching them.

Jim Broadbent, channeling that creepy uncle you don’t like to sit too close to, as England’s attorney general, delivers much of the cryptic nuts-and-bits about the judiciary procedures. This is the sort of role actors relish. They know the audience will be hanging on their every word and they’ll be able to milk the cadence of their speech and every pregnant pause for maximum effect. Lord knows what Alan Rickman would have done with this part, having proved himself the master of this technique as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. Bana and Hall are quite good as well. Both performers effectively convey their worry, regret and anger through subtle glances and introspective moments. The success of the film is dependent on their antagonistic chemistry and they deliver as they always have in the past.

Obviously, there’s a lot in play here, but Crowley keeps his storylines clean, never giving the viewer more than they can digest and make sense of before dispensing with the next narrative bombshell. The film runs a scant 96 minutes and it’s a taut ride from start to finish, thanks to the director’s economic style of storytelling. Throughout, he crosscuts between parallel lines of action – showing us Rose and Simmons-Howe at different locales at the same time, each uncovering intersecting clues – which makes for smart, thrilling filmmaking and proves once more that less is more in the hands of a capable director. This is the sort of film Alfred Hitchcock would be making were he alive today and while Crowley is a far cry in ability from that master, he does a marvelous job of reminding us that you don’t need explosions, car chases or special effects to keep an audience on the edge of their seat.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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