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Review: Closed Circuit (2013)

Closed Circuit (2013)

Directed by: John Crowley

Premise: Two British attorneys (Rebecca Hall and Eric Bana) are appointed to defend the chief suspect in a high profile terrorist attack. As they prepare his defense, the lawyers find that the rules about state secrecy bind their efforts to represent their client and later come to realize that there is more to the case than meets the eye.

What Works: Closed Circuit has some very good actors in it and the movie is well performed. Rebecca Hall plays a smart and idealistic attorney and she strikes a balance of heroic smarts and human vulnerability that makes her the most interesting character in the movie. Also impressive in supporting roles are Jim Broadbent as the Attorney General, Ciarán Hinds as an elder attorney, and Riz Ahmed as a mysterious intelligence agent. These roles require ambiguity and complexity and the actors convey that pretty well. Closed Circuit also has some snappy dialogue that the actors are able to deliver with appropriate wit and that gives the movie some much needed humor. 

What Doesn’t: Closed Circuit is another post-9/11 movie dealing with the failures of Western governments to protect citizens and preserve civil liberties. The movie is reminiscent of pictures like Rendition and Body of Lies in that it was clearly written to be a big important statement about big important issues but the politics get in the way of the storytelling. The conspiracy plot is not well thought out. The awful truth is discovered fairly early in the movie’s running time and with very little effort and once it is revealed, Closed Circuit is doomed to a protracted holding pattern before the narrative log jam is broken. Closed Circuit is especially problematic as a conspiracy plot. The premise of the film is very hard to swallow and this is an especially cynical movie. Cynicism is normal and even necessary for a conspiracy thriller but Closed Circuit takes the most outrageous route at every turn, portraying Western governments as so corrupt and so unscrupulous that the movie should be watched while wearing a tinfoil hat. There have been excellent dramatic films criticizing counter-terrorism activities such as Munich and Traitor but the filmmakers have no mediating perspective and are so absorbed in hysterical conspiracy theorizing that the movie loses all credibility. The more fundamental problems of Closed Circuit are in its basic failures to tell a thrilling story. The movie has no dramatic momentum. Stories, and especially thrillers, must have a feeling of escalation. As the story approaches its climax the tension must get tighter and the stakes must get higher. Closed Circuit has no dramatic incline. In fact, the picture slows down in the second half and by the time it reaches what should be the climax the movie goes completely flat. Closed Circuit also has fundamental problems with its lead characters. Under the premise of the movie, the attorneys, played by Rebecca Hall and Eric Bana, are not supposed to communicate in order to preserve the secrecy of classified information. That is a novel setup that could make for an interesting obstacle but the filmmakers toss out their own rule as soon as it becomes a burden. The failures of the plotting doubly hurt the movie. The lazy handling of the story undermines the credibility of the movie but it also spoils the filmmakers’ political intentions. The filmmakers of Closed Circuit seem to want viewers to be outraged about something and there is a vague impression that all of this secrecy and bureaucracy is somehow bad but because the story is so ineptly handled there is nowhere for the audience to place their empathy and no broad truth is proven by the ending.

Bottom Line: Closed Circuit is a sloppy thriller. The moviemakers wanted to make a statement of some sort but it doesn’t seem like they knew what that statement was. The resulting picture is a mishmash of thriller clichés and wild conspiracy theorizing that goes on for ninety-six minutes and then it stops.

Episode: #455 (September 8, 2013)