2 out of 4 stars
In one of the few recent examples of truth in advertising, the text on the promotional poster for “Closed Circuit” states “from the producers of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.’” As mentioned in this column recently, the “from the producers” tagline is the last one any studio really wants to use as few people care little who produces any movie but in this case it’s all they have and it is applicable on a number of levels.
Like “TTSS,” the plot of “Circuit” includes components of MI5, the English equivalent of the C.I.A. and is permeated with cutthroat paranoia and a win-at-all-costs mindset. It’s also populated with scores of tight-lipped, furrow-browed, joyless characters who tow the company line even when fully aware that doing so could mean an end to their careers and/or lives.
As with “TTSS,” “Circuit” looks as if it was filmed in the ’70s, but in the case of “TTSS” it was on purpose; here it appears to have been a way to merely cut down on productions costs. Shot mostly at night or under the clouds, drained of color with dull focus and riddled with flat earth tones, muted blacks and washed out blues, “Circuit” is one of the worst looking films of the year.
The opening title sequence is arguably the high point of the production where the action is presented on an ever-increasing series of split screens seen from the perspective of hundreds of closed circuit cameras. With more of these devices per square foot than any other city on Earth, London is the ideal setting for this type of story but the technique is only utilized just once more in the film. The movie’s title is more than a tad misleading. This first scene ends with something we can see coming but it is still nonetheless jarring and highly unsettling; it might actually hit too close to home and reflect the dark side of the real world far too much for some viewers. If you see the movie, prepare yourself to be shocked.
In a manner far removed from “TTSS” and the majority of like-minded British-based spy/espionage TV mini-series’ and feature films, “Circuit” sports a relatively simple and elementary story line. In the wake of the tragic event a Turkish Muslim is charged with the crime and is assigned a barrister (the English equivalent of a public defender) — make that two barristers. In quick order and off-screen, it is eluded to that the lead barrister has committed suicide and is replaced by Martin (Eric Bana).
Pressed by his slippery boss (Jim Broadbent) into service, Martin hesitates not only because he has to prepare the case without being privy to key evidence the government deems to be too much of a national security risk, but is also partnered with Claudia (Rebecca Hall) who is also his ex-lover. From what little we’re told, Martin and Claudia’s break-up was messy but each, in their own way, declares themselves “over it” and grudgingly agrees to remain professional for the duration.
With a plot this cut-and-dry any kind of twist is huge and the best one comes about halfway through, involves a member of the accused man’s immediate family and it’s very clever. Long before it is revealed however, the tone has already shifted from thriller territory into wan legal procedural with many accompanying scenes merely treading narrative water. A few more minor wrinkles and reveals soon follow along with some huge character trait flip-flops and minor events that alone mean little but together add up to too many plot and motivational inconsistencies. Also not helping is a too-pat and convenient ending.
Known more for his physique and facial stubble than actual acting prowess, Bana was the exact wrong guy for the role of Martin, although he occasionally gets close to the semi-nuanced performance he delivered in “Munich.” As for native-Brit Hall — whose resume consists of playing mostly American characters in comedies — she’s much better at adding color and texture in supporting roles.
As late August offerings go, we could have and have done much worse. “Closed Circuit” is not flat-out horrible and — at just 97 minutes — acts as a quickie holding-pattern release that wasn’t memorable enough to make the upcoming fall roster but was slightly better than a basic cable or direct-to-video offering. Label it spectacularly average and sadly, ephemeral and instantly forgettable. (Focus Features)