‘Closed Circuit’ is another quiet suspense movie

By Gary Clift

One is an oddity. Two are a trend.

In one week I’ve seen two general-release suspense movies that can be characterized as “quiet.” Both “Paranoia” and “Closed Circuit” are about espionage. They develop suspense as we see characters in the story under pressure. And yet neither one of them uses the sort of noisy slam-bang action we have come to expect in feature films.

No five minute car chases with wrecks and explosions. No automatic weapons spitting out flames during foot pursuits through commercial buildings and mean streets. Even the emotional incendiaries are Black Cat charged rather than C4 packed.

Not that the movies are in other ways alike. “Paranoia” is about a young man working in the cell-phone promotion business who is recruited by one creepy boss to spy on the operations of another creepy boss. The FBI gets involved, and—Spoiler Alert!—eventually our hero finds a way to officially incriminate both his antagonists while getting himself out of trouble and back into a white collar job.

“Closed Circuit” is about the trial of a man who seems to have purchased the ingredients needed for a truck bomb that kills 120 South Londoners in the least sensational terrorist action scene in the history of film. Months later this guy is being tried using legal procedures that will give American movie-goers considerable pause.

Remember that our British allies have no written constitution and that there is no freedom of the press in instances when national security (or even government interests) may be jeopardized by publicity. So much for the enlightenment of western European governments.

According to the movie, the U.K. way of trying a suspect in a case involving some evidence that may require protection for the sake of National Security is to run two trials at the same time. In the secret trial, the one that can’t be reported, the accused has a different lawyer (who can’t communicate with the other defense attorney). Oh, and the defendant can’t attend the secret court sessions or know what is discussed at them.

Military Intelligence 5 (a British spy agency) arranges an off-camera fake suicide of the suspect’s public trial attorney and manages to get his secret trial lawyer’s former lover appointed to the suddenly vacant pro bono job. Because they don’t feel they can admit that they used to have a romance, they are technically in violation of a law. This, the spook administrators think, will give them leverage over the defense in both cases.

They have substantial reason to want to keep information about the defendant kept quiet. But the lawyers manage to dope it out. And then they and the cases’ young key witness are in danger of being silenced by domestic spies.

The story is a little obscure, it seemed to me. Luckily, there’s a terrific cast to command our attention. It is led by first-rate talent Eric Bana, a Melburnian, and Rebecca Hall, daughter of Sir Peter Hall, former head of the National Theater and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company. They play the lover lawyers.

Backing them are Julia Stiles,  the great Ciaran Hinds, and Jim Broadbent playing a wonderfully menacing villain.

The title is a reference to the well-known and wide-spread use of government security cameras just about everyplace public in London. CTV information doesn’t figure all that much in the story. But the constant surveillance acts as a reminder of how much we are being watched by our own police. Recent news leaks about American government security will keep us from feeling particularly superior to our island-dwelling cousins.

I’m afraid younger moviegoers may find all this British stuff a little complicated. And, then, one has to wonder how they will react to a suspense movie without any loud explosions. If they like the change, maybe we’ll see more quiet spy movies like this.

Three would make a movement.

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