Opens Wed., Aug. 28 at Sundance and other theaters. Rated R. 96 minutes.
Woefully ill-equipped to compete with breaking news about Edward Snowden and Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning, Closed Circuit seems especially tired right now. Even if it functions for a while as a serviceable paranoid thriller, its premise is far too generic to compare with current headlines. Even the title’s misleading: This isn’t so much about the surveillance state as about government overreach for the sake of old-fashioned backside-covering.
The legalistic scenario rarely rises above the level of a British TV movie. We’re in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in London, for which a single alleged Islamic radical is held for trial. A quirk of British law—probably an intriguing point in real life, not so intriguing in the movie—stipulates the suspect be represented by two lawyers, one for open court, a second for closed proceedings involving top-secret issues of national security. Both attorneys serve the accused man, but are prohibited from speaking to each other during the process.
Screenwriter Steven Knight, who has authored some respectable scripts in his time (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), lays a heavy burden on this one: Seems the two barristers, Martin (Eric Bana, late of Hanna) and Claudia (Rebecca Hall), had a fling in the past. After lying to the judge about this shared history, they prove spectacularly incapable of sticking to the no-contact rule as the case unravels—to be fair, this has less to do with the need to get the actors into kissy-face than with the increasingly sinister web of connections coming to light about the accused.
Those complications are easy to guess, and director John Crowley (Boy A) can’t hide the mechanical grinding of the movie’s stumble into its trumped-up final act. Ordinarily one could take refuge in the excellent cast, but here it just reminds you of the wasted talent. Bana isn’t exactly right (the role appears written for a Hugh Grant type), but Jim Broadbent and Ciarán Hinds nail their stock older-generation parts, and Riz Ahmed (from the dazzling Four Lions) threatens to juice up the movie as Claudia’s government helper, who might be secret service. Hall, from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town, and TV’s Parade’s End, adds more evidence to the argument that she is the next great movie star. I think the argument is settled in her favor, but she might check with her agent about putting this kind of role behind her.