Closed Circuit Movie Review

Featuring: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent
Director: John Crowley
Writer: Steven Knight
Australian release date: Thursday December 5th (Luna advance screening 6.30pm, Tuesday 26th November, with Eric Bana as special guest)

Reviewer: Karen
Verdict: A so-so spy thriller, short on credibility.

Following a mysterious explosion in a busy London market, the police swoop, a suspect is detained, and the country prepares for one of the most high-profile trials in British history. Two exceptional lawyers with a romantic history step into a dangerous web of secrets and lies, and when evidence points to a possible British Secret Service cover up, it’s not just their reputations, but their lives that are at stake.

Inside this so-so film, is there a good film trying to get out? Spy thrillers are not my genre at all, so I’m not sure what could save Closed Circuit. A bit of credibility would certainly help.

That said, however, the opening sequence very neatly establishes the factual basis for the plot, and relates it to a theme of surveillance – of which more later – and personalises the impact of terrorism on individuals. The multiple split screen from CCTV of the Borough Market in London is an effective device that makes it very clear what happens to many ordinary people, men, women and children, when a terrorist bomb goes off.

I was instantly hooked and pretty happy to go along for the ride, but then followed some ponderous exposition about the legal case and the rules around how it was to be heard: rules that pit our hero Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and heroine Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) against each other, even though they are both defending the accused terrorist. What? I hear you say. No really, go along, it’ll all be made clear multiple times, you won’t fail to follow the logic!

Naturally, Martin and Claudia have history together, which makes it harder for them to follow a strict no-talky rule. The righteous pair both perjure themselves to keep the gig; if this is meant to be characterisation, then it is very heavy-handed indeed, not to mention confusing, because later they are willing to risk their lives for a principle. And the characters don’t in fact stray far from stock types: Martin is your typical arsehole romantic hero in the Mr Darcy mould, while Claudia is a cool customer and smartarse lawyer; both apparently need to be taken down a peg or three. Sadly, the screen doesn’t sizzle when these two interact, so while the improbability of their being chosen for the defence roles is, sort of, explained away, there’s no satisfaction in the lacklustre outcome.

Nevertheless, there is some interest in the plot, and with all the news these days about the activities of ASIO spooks, it’s topical. But there are some whopper holes in the story that had me wondering if the narrative was built around the antics of MI5 work experience agents rather than seasoned professionals. I can’t give examples without spoilers, but let’s just say if you’re going to take someone out, you shouldn’t waste time delivering a bit of a rant about realpolitik first. The guys who planted the polonium on Litvinenko’s sushi, or who fired the ricin pellet out of the umbrella tip to nobble Markov would be laughing up their sleeves.

But how hard must it be to write a credible spy thriller nowadays? Gone are the public telephones that were reliably untraceable; gone are the simple dead letter drops in public places. Carry a phone and your tech-savvy enemies can track your every footstep – or they can just watch as you progress from one surveillance camera to the next. So for the protagonists to give the baddies the slip is simply unbelievable.

It’s all forgivable if it’s done tightly enough, if cinematic magic happens, if superb acting grips you. But it doesn’t. Annoying, unjustifiable hand-held camera in intimate moments, dead patches in scenes, and just slightly off vowels in Bana’s supposed-to-be-British accent all conspire with the arguably naff script to prevent Closed Circuit from lifting off.

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