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Closed Circuit: When Bad Writing Strikes

By James Keith · September 3, 2013

There are lots of different reasons to come to the movies. Some people want to turn their brains off and watch people or robots or aliens kill each other. Some people want to turn their brains off and watch people or robots or aliens make love to each other or laugh at funny people or robots or aliens doing funny things to each other.

But there are also times when people want to use their brains at the cinema. They want to learn something about our world’s past, or they want to be introduced to a new idea, or maybe watch a thought provoking and topical examination of current events.

Movies like these don’t work by bashing its plot and good guy versus bad guy shtick over your head. They leaves little gaps in the story where you can draw your own conclusions into about the characters and their thought processes, which allows you to put yourself in the character’s position to better understand the complexities of the issues the movie raises. They are grounded in realism, because the thought that this could really happen is the terrifying or interesting hook that keeps the audiences attention.

Watching the trailer for Closed Circuit, directed by John Crowley, I got the impression that I was in for that type of film, which sucked because all I wanted to do was watch the new One Direction movie.

But sadly, I probably would have been better off if I had just turned off my brain and watched One Direction, because the story Crowley and screen writer Steven Knight offer is anything but thought provoking.

Circuit follows the events after a terrorist bomb goes off in a crowded London market. The lone surviving suspect of the bombing is taken into custody and given two lawyers, Martin Rose (played by Aussie dream boat Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons (Rebecca Hall). Martin Rose is to handle the open proceedings, while Simmons takes part in a closed trial to decide if certain classified information should be allowed into the open portion of the trial. Surrounding the plot are themes of anti-big brother voyeurism and where exactly should we draw the line against atrocities committed by people fighting for our freedom?

The movie is smartly acted by all involved. Jim Broadbent, a typically cheery fellow, Nazrul Sharma, and Barbara Bobulova give particularly chilling performances. The movie is also shot very well, especially with a clever introductory scene using closed circuit surveillance cameras for which the title is given. And given recent revelations about NSA and the never ending terrorist warfare this generation seems perpetually stuck in, the subject matter is very relevant.

The problem is that this movie plays much like a mid-nineties suspense thriller, like Kiss The Girls, or Along Came A Spider (which was actually made in 2001).

Now, neither of those movies are bad, and frankly neither is Circuit. But with the subject matter and the brilliantness of the preview, you begin to have expectations of a film that could be as riveting and intelligent as say a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)or The Conversation (1974)—and this gets in the way of enjoying a run of the mill ‘who dun’ it?’ crime thriller complete with lazily thought out, pointless, and boring action scenes, a romance that gets so little attention you could really care less about it, and a surprise twist that surprises no one.

What makes movies like what Closed Circuit wants to be great, is their believability. Believing that this could really happen is what scares and keeps its viewers interested. But when you create a world where the government just flamboyantly kills or tries to kill every public figure at every turn of the plot, action scenes where female lawyers and children continuously escape secret agent killers who know every place that they go and everything that they do, and bad guys who just do bad stuff to cover up the bad stuff they did, then it leaves a cheap taste in your mouth. The absurdity takes away the credibility of the message it's trying to send.

If a year from now you’ve already gone through most of the top rated crime thrillers on your Netflix account, then by all means enjoy yourself some Closed Circuit. But if you’re looking for a thoughtful piece on the closed circuit surveillance cameras that can be found on more and more street corners every day, and the corollary implications of government/ terrorism relations, you’d do just as well to go watch the New One Direction movie.