Closed Circuit (Focus Features, 8.28) is an intelligent, moderately suspenseful, British-made melodrama (and not really a “courtroom drama”, despite what some reviewers are saying) about domestic terrorism and morally derelict higher-ups. The latter prove their dastardly mettle in Act Three by pursuing the once-romantically-linked barristers (Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall) who are onto the Big Secret that no one can know about…all right, no spoilers. But the fact that these two get chased down some dark streets underscores the basic movie maxim that (a) if you stumble onto some Really Shocking Information and (b) indicate that you may spill it, the bad guys will definitely try and ice your ass.
We all know the name of that tune, don’t we?
Robert Redford‘s Joe Turner was in a roughly similar situation 38 years ago in Three Days of the Condor. He temporarily solved things by giving the Really Shocking Information to the N.Y. Times, but Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Rayfiel‘s script made it clear that Turner would be looking over his shoulder for many months if not years to come, and that he might even get taken down. Max Von Sydow‘s Jourbert explained it all at the finish: “It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift.” Now, that is chilling.
Alas, there are no kindly European assassins given to such musings in Closed Circuit. It’s just not that kind of film. By that I mean it’s not all that layered or unusual or given to surprise. It’s basically an MI5 potboiler with a couple of good scenes….actually one especially good one in a London courtroom in which Hall’s prosecutor make some serious accusations against certain powers-that-be. Plus all that running around and a lot of verbal fencing and testy arguments and hints of dark forces gathering and a few furtive meetings in which alarming events are considered.
Otherwise Closed Circuit is basically a reserved (i.e., Britishy) Joe Eszterhas film from the mid ’90s. The fact that Bana and Hall, on opposite ends of a case involving a ghastly public bombing and hints of odious ties between the bomber and high-placed nogoodniks…the fact that Bana and Hall used to be lovers and that the story, in part, is about how they re-establish trust and affection between them…well, that’s a problem.
One of the late Elmore Leonard‘s best-known quotes is “if it sounds like writing, rewrite it.” Likewise in movies. If one detects an effort by a screenwriter ((in this case Stephen Knight) to heat the plot ingredients to such a degree that the story feels strained and unnaturally pushed along, that’s trouble. This is partly what’s wrong with Closed Circuit. The prosecution and the defense attorney used to sleep together but now they have to put that aside in order to act like professionals so they can get at the truth? C’mon, that’s high-crank “movie writing.”
The director, the Irish-born John Crowley, is best known as an upmarket theatre director (A Behanding in Spokane, The Pillow Man). He doesn’t do a bad job with Closed Circuit. He shoots and cuts with requisite urgency and flair. The script is the fucking problem.
Okay, it’s not just the script. There’s also “the Eric Bana curse,” which I’ve been riffing on for years. I only know that since Ang Lee‘s The Hulk Bana hasn’t caught a break. It’s not that he’s been bad or underwhelming over the last ten-plus years — its that he’s never hit a homer or a triple. At best he’s a whacked a couple of doubles; he mostly hits singles and now has a batting average of .230. Troy was a single. Munich was a double but it had that third-act sex scene that took the whole thing down. Lucky You was somewhere between a whiff and a single. The Other Boleyn Girl was a single. The Time Traveler’s Wife was a double with the fans of romantic dramas. Bana’s supporting role in Funny People was okay but basically meh. Hanna was a single. I don’t even remember Deadfall. I didn’t see Elvis & Nixon. At least Bana has a role in Peter Berg‘s highly-touted Lone Survivor coming out in January.
Closed Circuit is not a “burn.” I didn’t moan or cover my face with my hands as I watched it. You could do worse than blow $12 or $14 bucks and a couple of hours of your life to…who am I kidding? It’s a Netflix movie.