^ Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall in James Crowley’s “Closed Circuit”
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A deft thinking man’s thriller from the team of producers behind “Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy.” Clearly, they know intrigue, though “Closed Circuit” is less of a brain boggle than the 2011 Cold War chess game based on the John Le Clair novel. It’s never a street brawl either, though plenty of blood is spilt (but mostly off screen). Based on real events, London is rocked by a massive terrorist attack that kills over 100 innocents. The means of mayhem is nothing special: a truck full of explosives is parked in front of an open market and triggered suicide style. What is special, is that the mastermind is so easily caught.
The rub comes during the staging of the trial. The Crown, for security reasons, wants a closed hearing due to sensitive ‘secret evidence’ that could put the public safety at risk–or so that’s the line being towed by the Attorney General, played by a slimmed down James Broadbent as an avuncular and creepy puppet master. As the trial gears up, a nosey defense attorney (James Lowe) commits suicide by jumping from a tall building. His replacements don’t buy the unhappy gay story circulating in the rumor mill and begin to poke around too, but they have other challenges to contend with : Martin (Eric Bana) and Claudia (Rebecca Hall) have been romantically involved. It wrecked his marriage, and if a trace of their involvement is evident, they will be booted from the trial. To complicate matters further, the two can’t communicate during the closed session segment of the trial, and only Claudia, as the Special Advocate with classified clearance, can look at the secret evidence.
It sounds more convoluted on paper than it does on screen. Director James Crowley (“Boy A”), artfully imbues tension and peril into every scene. When Claudia is presented the secret evidence by Nazrul (Riz Ahmed), a boyish agent with dangerously dark features, she questions how he got into her sealed office. He calmly tells her the door was open when he got there, but she knows that’s not true, and from that moment on, both she and Martin know that MI5 is likely involved and that a cover up or conspiracy could be in play.
Bana and Hall play off each other well, effusively selling the integrity of their government attorneys as well as their contemplative introspect and resolve when on the lam. You’re so ingrained to their thinking and plight, there are times, especially with Bana’s Martin, that you begin to question whether he’s gone over the top and his acumen has slipped a gear and fallen into pure paranoia. As with the Bourne films, there’s constant surveillance everywhere (Crowley uses the security cam POV a lot and its one many layered meanings within the film’s title), and the busy streets forever provide a mecca for unassuming pedestrians and loiterers to leap out as would-be assassins.
Much to Crowley’s credit, he handles the many twists and turns sharply and clearly even as the film clicks along, agile and spritely under the menacing pall. The editing is tightc– and key, as are the bit players like Broadbent — and Ahmed, who with artful ease sells both sides of his loyal foot soldier willing to do anything to protect the Crown. Also quite good is Anne-Marie Duff as a transportation secretary; not so Julia Stiles, though, in the flimsy role of a New York Times reporter working the London desk. She further underscores the Bourne-like essence, though “Closed Circuit” stands up on its own and rightfully so.
Crowley has toiled at his craft for some time in relative obscurity; “Closed Circuit” is about to change all that. Let’s just hope Hollywood doesn’t change him.
—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies