Closed Circuit

Year of Release: 2013     Directed by John Crowley.           Starring Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, and Julia Stiles.

Perhaps I am overly lenient when it comes to mysteries and thrillers, but I thought Closed Circuit had just enough strengths to overcome its copious flaws and make for a diverting and mostly enjoyable hour and a half mystery.

The premise is fascinating.  Defense barrister Martin Rose (Eric Bana) has been assigned to a high profile case in which a suspected terrorist is being tried for a bombing which resulted in the deaths of one hundred twenty people.  After the previous defense barrister committed suicide, Martin is selected to pick up the case.  An unusual aspect of the case involves classified information pertinent to the defense that is being withheld from the public, the accused, and the defense on the grounds of national security.  Before the public trial on the bombing, there will be a special closed circuit case in which another defense barrister, Claudia Simmons-Howe, (Rebecca Hall) will defend the right of the accused to have access to all the information being used against him.

However, Claudia and Martin have had a past affair, which compromises their ability to work together on the same case, but they withhold that information from their superiors, because this case is too important for their careers for them to decline it.  As both of them investigate the case, they discover that officials from British intelligence agency MI5 are spying on them and have reason to want this case dealt with as clandestinely as possible.

The biggest flaw with the film is that the plot is rather predictable, primarily regarding the identity of the corrupt government officials and the nature of the mystery.  There are also way too many cuts to the security camera point of view, constantly reminding the audience that someone is watching and spying on the actions of Martin, Claudia, the accused, and his family.  Those cuts give away too much of the plot too far in advance, undermining some of the suspense of the mystery.

As an intelligent barrister, it does not really make sense that it took Martin as long as it did to figure out who was spying on him and Claudia.  He told only one person about the same cab repeatedly picking him up, and then the next cab mysteriously (as he noted) had a different identification number.  That same person is also the only one who knew that he and Claudia had an illicit affair, which MI5 uses to threaten them.  But it takes a couple more slips from the character before Martin figures it out.  The audience is then supposed to be surprised when this spy is seen meeting with the head of the corrupt agency.

Julia Stiles essentially has a glorified cameo as a New York Times reporter that serve two purposes.  She asks the obvious questions that any alert audience member would already be asking, and she makes the semi-obvious parallels to the recent controversies regarding government spying with Snowden and Greenwald.  Her questions are topical, yet the film’s presentation of them is not particularly new or insightful.

All that said, I did enjoy it overall.  The entire cast gives strong performances, and the pace moves along briskly, just fast enough to stay engaging and not so fast as to be overwhelming.

I should add that I thought Closed Circuit had one of the stronger scores I have heard this year (not that I have actually heard any really noteworthy film scores this year.)  The quiet rhythmic piano music had a less is more approach which added to the atmosphere of the film without distracting from it.

As an entertaining mystery Closed Circuit mostly succeeds due to its cast, good pacing, and interesting concept.  Better camera use and fewer early revelations would have helped the film tremendously by creating a stronger aura of suspense.  While the questions it raises about government surveillance are relevant to many recent news stories, the film could also have explored the consequences of such procedures in greater depth rather than abandoning them to the generic mystery.  Nevertheless, a well acted generic mystery with a decent premise is not a bad film.

Content Advisory: Some rough language, a non-graphic murder, two attempted stranglings, and references to an affair.                 MPAA rating: R

Suggested Audience: Teens and up with discernment.

Overall Recommendation: B-

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