Closed Circuit Review

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Since when did MI5 become as cinematically nefarious as the CIA?

by Casimir Harlow Feb 24, 2014 at 3:04 PM

  • Movies review

    Closed Circuit Review

    From British Director John Crowley, and based upon a script by Writer/Director Steven Knight, Closed Circuit is a sporadically engaging conspiracy thriller hobbled by a hard-to-believe story, a really dodgy accent and a made-for-TV feel.

    Ironically this would have probably worked better as a British TV mini-series, rather than a full-blown feature film, where it would have been given the opportunity to better develop its characters, better explain the motivations, and build the story in a plausible and satisfying fashion. Unfortunately, with the limited time afforded it during a single feature outing, Closed Circuit smacks more of a British attempt to trade in US-style conspiracies, threatening to ruin any chance of suspension of disbelief along the way. The story sees two lawyers drafted in to represent an alleged terrorist, suspected of having blown up a crowded London market.
    The lawyers have a complicated history together, which culminated in an affair that saw one of them lose his wife and family to a painful divorce, and they don’t particularly want to work together again here, but they have to set aside their differences when they realise that there is more to the case than meets the eye. The terrorist’s previous defence counsel died in mysterious circumstances, and when the new barristers realise that MI5 might have had their hand in this, they start to investigate the conspiracy, only to find that they are being monitored at every turn and there are forces at work which will do whatever it takes to see that the case is closed cleanly and without fuss.

    Closed Circuit
    Perhaps if this had been a fully-fledged US tale, positing the shadiest all-purposes organisation – the CIA – against a group of naive attorneys, it would have worked. At least in terms of film lore, the CIA has always been painted as a nefarious, omnipotent, autonomous group who appear to be motivated by their own financial gain more than anything else, and are certainly prepared to do whatever it takes to get the outcome that they desire. MI5, on the other hand, are not even their British equivalent, and have seldom been painted in such grey terms. Surveillance, sure; and dangerous actions to fulfil their missions – at a risk to both their own and to any members of the public who get swept up as collateral damage. But sanctioned killing of a handful of innocents just to preserve appearances? It just seems a little too far-fetched.

    As the two lead defence barristers, Eric Bana (sporting a terrible accent that sees many of his actions feel like those of a petulant child) and Rebecca Hall do their utmost to sell the story, whilst Jim Broadbent and Ciaran Hinds offer weighty support, but they seldom strike the right balance between dramatic tension and plausible conspiracy. And the film offers up a strange dichotomy to the viewer – it’s most exciting sequences are also the most ludicrous, particularly with Riz Ahmed’s shady MI5 agent running around the streets with a garrotte.

    The odd blend of Brit made-for-TV-scope and US-style conspiracies leave this both perfunctory and implausible.

    Whilst I have hopes for writer Steven Knight’s upcoming Locke – probably due to lead actor Tom Hardy – and rate several of his previous efforts, including his writing turn for Eastern Promises and his writer/director debut with Jason Statham’s Hummingbird, he appears to have stretched things too far with this story, and the perfunctory efforts of director John Crowley don’t do anything to raise the piece above its middle-of-the-road aspirations. Whilst there are touches of enjoyment and intrigue, ultimately Closed Circuit neither rings true, nor entertains with sheer punch. It’s the kind of thing you can probably wait for when it comes to TV.

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