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'Closed Circuit' is more airport novel than topical thriller

"Closed Circuit" concerns the erosion of civil liberties, government accountability and racial profiling, but still plays like a dumb thriller.

Eric Bana looks vaguely suspicious in the very English thriller "Closed Circuit." Credit: Jay Maidment, Focus Features Eric Bana looks vaguely suspicious in the very English thriller "Closed Circuit."
Credit: Jay Maidment, Focus Features

‘Closed Circuit’
Director: John Crowley
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Eric Bana
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The American films of the 1970s were informed by justified paranoia, coming from a time when various fits of government malfeasance — Watergate, the Vietnam War — were out in the open. Today’s institutional underhandedness tends to be a bit more covert, and a smart thriller about corrupt agencies murdering journalists and snooping bureaucrats would address that. “Closed Circuit” is not that movie. It’s a holdover from this bygone era. Here, the bodies that rule us (or England, where it takes place) just kill everybody in their way, and sloppily at that. It’s an airport novel in a “topical” outrage machine’s clothes.

Rebecca Hall and Erica Bana are the two main overqualified actors contributing to the air of importance. (Jim Broadbent and Ciaran Hinds fill out supporting roles.) A 7/7-style act of terrorism has occurred, and suspected of ties to the bombing is a Turkish emigre (Denis Moschitto). But the case is wishy-washy, and the lawyers played by Hall and Bana see right through it. Their investigations reveal a massive, increasingly wobbly conspiracy that seems to go right to the top, and brings on scary supporting characters and conveniently incompetent assassins.

“Closed Circuit” touches on — and really only touches on — big issues, among them how many civil liberties we’re willing to surrender for the illusion of safety, government accountability, and racism as England becomes increasingly multicultural. (That doesn’t stop it from employing a shady Arab heavy, played by Riz Ahmed.) It takes on the appearance of intelligence, from the casting to the slow burn plotting to the calm and sleek direction of John Crowley (“Boy A”), which adopts a reticence that, even in the face of escalating horror, is purely and sometimes amusingly English. (When he realizes they’re being toyed with, it's a touch funny that Bana says, “We’re being managed.”)

But the film is never compelling enough to cover up the cliched rot at the center. (A chilling opening bombing, told entirely through security footage, is the noted exception.) This is a film where our two leads just happen to be old flames who may or may not get back together at the end. And it’s a film where a minor character’s death makes front page news. The silliness piles up, each one nicking away at the film’s dwindling credibility. It doesn’t even have the courage of its paranoid convictions, turning suddenly and undeservingly reassuring when it should go whole hog bleak-o-rama. It's a liability that a film like this winds up having hope.

 
 
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