Sunday, August 25, 2013

NSA, meet MI5! In CLOSED CIRCUIT, John Crowley offers a timely & unsettling thriller

You want timely? You couldn't ask for a movie more attuned to what the western world seems ever engaged in: Spying on its own citizens. CLOSED CIRCUIT -- the tight yet expansive British thriller directed by John Crowley and written by Steven Knight -- hits the proverbial nail smack on the head, and the explosion that follows is as much about the uninten-ded results of this spying as it is of the spying itself. Though it will put Americans who follow the important news immediately in mind of what the NSA is up to, being British, the film instead follows the exploits of MI5 and its minions who fancy themselves doing good work that must be done to protect their country, even as they blackmail, betray and murder innocents. Ah, but it's all in a day's work!

Mr. Crowley, shown at right, certainly has a versatile resume (Intermission, Boy A, Is Anybody There?), in which each film proves richer than its genre might initially indicate. This is true once again with Closed Circuit, a thriller that indeed has some thrills but offers as much food for thought as it does action, chase scenes and death. It's a "distanced" movie -- from the explosion that sets the off the plot to the relationships that hold that plot together (and then tears it apart). Packed with as solid a British cast as you could corral (with an Australian, an American, a German and a Slovak thrown in for good measure), the movie speeds from incident to incident, with the connections between them often left out so that we must fill in the blanks as the film quickly progresses. And, indeed, it does move fast.

After that initial explosion, there's a a terrorist plot of some sort in which the actual terrorist (Denis Moschitto, above) is quickly caught and must be defended, a funeral for a dead lawyer, his replacement, a Special Advocate to help with the defense, conspiracy, investigation and... well, lots more. Surprise is as important to this film as it was to last week's cracked comedy The World's End, so you'll get no more info on plot development here.

Rather, let's talk about the exceptional cast, led by Eric Bana, above, as the replacement lawyer, and Rebecca Hall (below), as that Special Advocate. The two have a history, it turns out, which is both a help and a hindrance to them.

Bana's friend and mentor, played by Ciarán Hinds (below, left) is on hand,

as is Jim Broadbent (below) as the very business-like-but-close-to-the-vest Attorney General.

On the distaff side, we have Julia Stiles, below, as a suspicious-for-good-reason reporter for The New York Times,

while MI5, the dears, are represented by Riz Ahmed, below,

and Anne-Marie Duff, below, whose straight-ahead, brook-no-deviation stance has consequences for all -- including its supposed friends and co-workers.

Perhaps the most chilling scene of the year involves Mr. Ahmed quietly, professionally taking care of business -- murder -- while destroying a family in the process.

Simply to keep abreast of things, you'll have to pay close attention at all times. The British justice system -- as you may have found watching the French one in action, via Spiral -- is different enough from our own to make for some confounding issues. This is nothing that you can't surmount by keeping your eyes on the screen and your mind alert. (You might also refer to the film's web site info on the British legal system by clicking here.)

The kick to Closed Circuit hits you during the film but also after the movie ends. The idea of the all-powerful, secret government is by now -- thanks to Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and so many other whistle-blowers -- a fact we understand as present and continuing. Despite Barak Obama's promise of transparency, then lying through his teeth about the activities of the NSA, the movie is probably as much on the mark about America's secret government as it is about the British. Same shit, classier accent.

What whistle-blowers can expect, as we see here, is at best a stand-off -- after which and for how long they will remain safe is very much up for grabs.

Closed Circuit, from Focus Features and running a swift 96 minutes, opens Wednesday, August 28, nationwide. Click here, then enter your zip code and choice of movie ticket provider, to find a theater near you.

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