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‘Closed Circuit’ falls short despite top-notch cast


Martin Rose Eric Bana

Claudia Simmons-Howe Rebecca Hall

Devlin Ciaran Hinds

Nazrul Sharma Riz Ahmed

Melissa Anne-Marie Duff

Farroukh Erdogan Denis Moschitto

Focus Features presents a film directed by Jim Crowley and written by Steve Knight. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated R (for language and brief violence). Opens Wednesday at AMC River East and Landmark Century.

Updated: September 29, 2013 6:31AM

Neck-deep in danger and aware his every move is being tracked, the defense attorney for an accused terrorist arranges a clandestine meeting with another barrister, who is defending the same client in a parallel hearing.

For no good reason, he spills the beans and tells her everything he knows, thus putting her life in danger as well.

The only way out of this deadly predicament, he explains, would be for him to let his client take the fall while remaining silent about the real masterminds behind a bombing that took the lives of more than 100 innocent civilians.

But if you do that, she says, it will be a real miscarriage of justice!

Well, yes. He just explained that.

There’s a lot of excessive hammering home of the point in “Closed Circuit.” This is a well-made, topical thriller with a top-notch cast — but the script and the directorial/editing choices undercut nearly every pivotal scene, and every plot twist we can see coming two scenes in advance.

Eric Bana’s Martin Rose is an attorney brought in to defend the lone surviving member of a terrorist cell that set off a truck bomb in a crowded London market, murdering 120 men, women and children. Rose comes late to the case, after the original lawyer committed suicide. He will defend one Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), a Turkish national who was radicalized in London and has been identified by the British authorities as the “mastermind” behind the market bombing.

Martin will defend Erdogan in the public trial. Rebecca Hall’s Claudia Simmons-Howe will be his Special Advocate in a separate, closed-door hearing in which classified evidence that could compromise national security will be heard. By British law, Martin and Claudia are forbidden to have any contact with one another — which shouldn’t be a problem, given they had an affair that destroyed Martin’s marriage and ended terribly for everyone involved.

Britain has some 4.2 million closed circuit TV cameras, one for about every 14 citizens. From its title through the opening bombing sequence through a number of scenes of characters looking up at and even talking to surveillance devices, “Closed Circuit” keeps telling us Big Brother never sleeps — yet whenever a character needs to slip out of sight to advance the plot or meet up with somebody outside the prying eyes of the government, the script conveniently allows for it.

It doesn’t take long for Martin to figure out there’s more to this case than four rogue terrorists blowing up a market. Meanwhile, Claudia is fending off the ham-handed pressure from a smirking British spy who keeps cautioning her not to dig too deep into the circumstances of the case. Careers could be ruined, he tells her. People could get hurt.

Director John Crowley never misses an opportunity to poke us and say, “You see what’s happening here, don’t you!” After particularly revealing conversations, the camera lingers on the participants, old-school soap opera style, so we don’t miss the concerned or deceptive expressions on their faces. When Martin gets into a cab, he glances at the license number, and the camera stays there long enough for the audience to recite the digits aloud. Hmmm, wonder if that will come into play later on.

After Martin tells one key character he has suspicions about that character’s true identity, he repeats that suspicion to two other characters, I guess in case you were in the bathroom and you missed it the first time.

The brilliant character actors Jim Broadbent and Ciaran Hinds add some spice while playing characters who never surprise us, even when they’re supposed to be surprising us. Julia Stiles plays an investigative journalist for the New York Times who acts more like a tabloid reporter and forgets to follow her own advice. Bana and Hall are two fine actors who never seem to mesh, even when circumstances throw them together.

Before “Closed Circuit” is halfway over, there’s a clear path the villains could take if they wanted to put an end to this thing. (To be fair, the question of why they don’t choose that route is voiced in the film, but the answer is less than satisfactory.) About a half-hour later, all Martin and Claudia have to do is stop and address the throngs of media outside the courthouse, and they’d blow the lid off the case.

But they can’t. They have to keep going, so Claudia can make a really bad decision in the cleared-out courtroom, robbing herself and Martin of their best chance to make things right.

After starting off with an explosion caught from multiple camera angles that takes our breath away because it all feels so terribly, tragically true to our times, “Closed Circuit” settles in and becomes a competently made, generic thriller you’ll stop thinking about as soon as you’re done dissecting the plot holes and questioning the actions of the characters.

The whole thing feels like an opportunity lost.

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