Friday, September 6, 2013

Closed Circuit Movie Review

Closed Circuit is about as grim and pessimistic a view of governments and spy agencies as you’ll get at the movies, but don’t be fooled by the adverts that tout its having the same producers as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That was a smart, taut, realistic, and pleasurable spy thriller. This is a derivative of every other spy thriller with the exception of an ending that doesn’t have us cheering star Eric Bana as the hero and champion of truth and righteousness.


Oh, he tries, or rather his character, a barrister assigned to defend a man accused of masterminding a truck bombing in London that killed hundreds tries. Martin Rose gets the case when his predecessor kills himself. Evidence will be presented in closed court in the interest of national security (a common topic of discourse in post-9/11 democracies) and the accused has also been assigned a special advocate (Rebecca Hall) to assess the evidence and defend him. This is where some knowledge of the British justice system would have gone a long way. I take it for granted in American movies that I know how our criminal justice system works. I was fairly lost as to why there were two defense attorneys, only one of whom was privy to the super-secret evidence. Not that I would have a lot of mindless exposition, but American audiences should feel forewarned.

As Martin investigates, he finds several pieces amiss and begins to question the open-and-shut nature of the case. Steven Knight’s screenplay might not be based on any specific thing, but it’s all very familiar. The investigation goes too far in uncovering uncomfortable truths that the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent) knows should remain hidden. A journalist (Julia Stiles, chosen for the smarts and maturity she demonstrated in the Bourne series) stirs the pot a little, and Martin isn’t certain he can trust anyone, including a close colleague and confidante played by Ciaran Hinds.

It tries to be a tale of the paranoia of living in an age where digital communication and CCTV are ubiquitous. We are never alone and finding a moment of privacy is rare. Director John Crowley tries with due diligence to remind us constantly, with the odd cutaway to cameras above the street or a video monitor following someone’s movements, that the paranoia is founded upon real surveillance, but he never brings the discussion anywhere. It’s merely a fact of the movie that someone’s always watching. Then again, that’s almost a fact of life so maybe that’s part of Crowley’s point.

I’m not necessarily inclined to buy into the notion that spy agencies, MI5 in this case, are generally nefarious and out to save their own image. Closed Circuit would have us believe that MI5 agents, presumably on instructions from their superiors in the government, will commit unspeakable and clearly illicit acts on the Homeland in order to protect itself and avoid a terrible scandal. Somehow I doubt an MI5 spy would get into a verbal pissing contest with a barrister in public about duty and protection, revealing her utter contempt for a man whose job is to defend all who stand accused of a crime. She represents the face of villainy in the film and it’s a rather tired trope: the government agent as self-professed defender of freedom who nevertheless comes across as duplicitous and poisonous to real justice and freedom.

There’s a much more interesting movie lurking around inside Closed Circuit, but Crowley didn’t manage to extract it from Knight’s screenplay. The movie gave the distinct sense that those involved thought they were doing a great public service with it, but about the only thing about the movie that breaks from tradition is to not provide any comeuppance for a “bad guy,” because in this case the bad guy isn’t a singular person, but a system that values security over transparency.

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