[Screen It]


(2013) (Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: Two ex-lovers end up working together on a high profile terrorism case that might spread further into the British government than either expected.
Six months after a truck bomb blew up a crowded London market and killed 120 people plus the two terrorists, Farroukh Erdogan (DENIS MOSCHITTO) stands trial as the alleged mastermind of the attack. With his defense barrister reportedly having committed suicide, the Attorney General (JIM BROADBENT) greats Martin Rose (ERIC BANA) as that man's replacement. The only problem is that Martin's ex-lover, Claudia Simmons-Howe (REBECCA HALL), is already working as the defendant's special advocate, and the former couple's past affair turned acrimonious. Nevertheless, they agree to keep that secret from the judge presiding over the case and begin working on defending their client.

The only problem is that the government has decided to have both an open and closed trial for Erdogan, the latter to keep national security issues secret and to which only Claudia will be privy. Assisting her in that regard is MI5 agent Nazrul Sharma (RIZ AHMED), although she's immediately suspicious of him and his presence. For Martin, his suspicions are aroused when he meets New York Times deputy bureau chief Joanna Reece (JULIA STILES) at a dinner party -- that's also attended by government worker Melissa (ANNE-MARIE DUFF) -- where the reporter informs the defense barrister that his predecessor's death may not have been a suicide as reported.

With Martin's longtime colleague, Devlin (CIARAN HINDS), assisting him, Martin begins working on the case that's going before the judge, Cameron Fischer (KENNETH CRANHAM), all while Claudia works on her side, all of which leads to her desire to question Erdogan's teenage son, Emir (HASANCAN CIFCI). As they do so, the former lovers turned defense partners become increasingly suspicious that everything they're doing is being watched and recorded, leading them to unsettling assumptions about their government.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
In the medical world, doctors, scientists and researchers are always looking for ways to cure a variety of diseases. Unfortunately, sometimes the solution ends up more harmful than the malady it was designed for, leading to the familiar phrase "The cure is worse than the disease." Since other problems exist outside of the medical arena, that phrase is often applied to other fields as well.

Take, for instance, counter-terrorism. While the actions of terrorists are clearly horrific and about as bad as one can get, some of the actions taken by various governments have drawn the criticism for going too far and over-stepping bounds in terms of what's legal regarding enemy and citizen rights. From the steps taken at Guantanamo Bay regarding the treatment of prisoners to the NSA and other such agencies collecting personal data of everyday habits, some fear that a "big brother" state has arisen and could quell long-standing individual freedoms of everyday people who have nothing to do with terrorism.

Another way that's being done, especially in London but also other major cities, is by the use of a plethora of surveillance cameras. They're obviously put in place to watch for suspicious activity and record any pivotal events should they occur (in order to look for suspects and evidence), but some worry they could be used to spy on and track the movements of regular people.

They're certainly a big presence in "Closed Circuit," a legal drama about the aftermath of a fictional bombing in London. In fact, the film -- directed by John Crowley from a script by Steve Knight -- shows their very use from the get-go as we see a surveillance shot of part of London, followed by that going split-screen to show two views, and then four and so on, all while we hear snippets of conversations from the passers-by who are unaware of what's about to happen.

And that would be a large delivery truck driving into a spot it's not supposed to be in and then exploding, an act of terrorism caught on the multitude of camera feeds. Armed with that footage and presumably forensic evidence and intelligence gathering, Britain's MI5 and/or MI6 arrest a suspect (Denis Moschitto) who they believe is the mastermind behind the attack.

The story then jumps forward six months only to have the defendant's defense barrister ending up dead (after learning that Newton's law definitely applies to going off the edge of a building). As a result, a replacement (Eric Bana) is put into place. But there's one big problem -- the woman (Rebecca Hall) he had a past affair with (and that presumably helped end his marriage) is already working as the suspect's special advocate. Despite their current animosity, they agree to keep that secret from everyone and proceed with gathering evidence to defend their client who's facing both a traditional and closed court hearing (the latter of which even the suspect and his barrister can't attend).

Having grown up in the U.S., I wasn't aware of the role of the special advocate and that they apparently aren't supposed to communicate and/or work with the main barrister. All of which seems odd since they have the same end goal, but whatever. As they get to work on their own, Claudia is visited by a British agent (Riz Ahmed) who arouses her suspicions not only because he's trying to "help" her, but also because he says she should call him if she ever feels threatened. Meanwhile, Martin becomes suspicious when he arrives for a dinner party, finds a New York Times reporter (Julia Stiles) there who's working on a story on the suspect, and is introduced to the thought that perhaps his predecessor's death was not a suicide.

From that point on, the two become increasingly concerned that R&B artist Rockwell may have been on to something back in the 1980s when he sang "I always feel like somebody's watching me." They start noticing weird things, such as people suddenly staring at them in malevolent ways, items being out of place and such, all while Crowley repeatedly shows views of the omnipresent surveillance cameras "watching" them and their every move.

While that's nothing too new in terms of conspiracy-themed thriller flicks, I found the first half of the film fairly engrossing, especially with the presence of performers as good as Bana and Hall (although I would have liked a better exploration of their past and present relationship), not to mention supporting work by the likes of Ciaran Hinds (as Martin's assistant) and especially Jim Broadbent (playing the never-named but increasingly ominous Attorney General). And the thematic elements of such big brother technology as well as how far governments could go in terms of dealing with terrorism and the potential fall-out from both are clearly intriguing.

But then the little moments of action started, followed by revelations of who's really who and what's really what and the film started to unravel and thus lose a lot of its punch. Thankfully, it doesn't turn into a complete train wreck, but the vehicle certainly jumps the tracks and grinds to a screeching halt when it was just starting to pick up speed and interest. And, natch, it's all captured on camera, but it doesn't take an investigator to see how and why it derailed. Good in the first half with diminishing returns in the second, "Closed Circuit" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 23, 2013 / Posted August 28, 2013

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