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Taut ‘Closed Circuit’ puts privacy on trial

Amid a myriad of recent stories revealing just how tirelessly the NSA has attempted — and mostly succeeded — to obliterate any semblance of privacy in the 21st Century, the timing of Closed Circuit couldn’t be more perfect.

Closed Circuit
Rating: R
Running time: 98 min.
Stars: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent, Riz Ahmed

Here’s a taut and terse thriller made by adults, for adults, serving as a reminder that films with searing social and political commentary can still be made and distributed in multiplexes.

We open with multiplying images from closed-circuit TV cameras that capture a bombing in a market. More than 120 people — including the suicide terrorist — are killed, subsequently leaving the country of Britain in a state of panic.

Once the panic subsides, fear and rage set in.

As with any heinous crime, justice must be served. Whether the accused — in this case a dingy Turkish national with a history with heroin, played by Riz Ahmed —  is the true criminal is irrelevant. It’s the illusion of justice, tranquility, and security that keeps the world spinning.

Partaking in that illusion, although unknowingly, are Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), both of whom are brought on to defend the alleged terrorist in a closed-doors session that prides itself on transparency. The irony is rich.

From the depiction of a legal system that consistently engages in illegal activity emerges the not-so-startling revelation that Rose and Howe were once clandestine lovers. This massive and polemical terrorist case propels these two back into each other’s lives.

Thankfully for us director John Crowley (Boy A and Intermission) and screenwriter Steve Knight (Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) seamlessly interweave lovingly crafted flashbacks of what Rose and Howe’s relationship used to be.

These tender moments of the love they once shared manages to be a nice respite to the unmitigated chaos surrounding the case.

The more Rose and Howe (who are, by law, not allowed to speak to one another during the trial) dig deeper into the case, the more danger they put themselves in. Death seems to be just around the corner of every scene – especially as the two judicial crusaders begin to expose a potential cover-up created by MI5.

Towards its back half, Knight’s script just nearly spirals out of control, with each scene drifting more and more into the fantastical.

But Crowley’s fourth feature ultimately doesn’t get mired in illogical silliness or mind-numbing contrivances. Instead, the film lands on chilling cynicism — a morbid conclusion that may surprise audiences expecting the sort of feel-good ending Hollywood is so notorious for manufacturing.

Without simplifying the issue into something unidentifiable, this post-Watergate thriller tactfully tackles our ongoing battle with preserving privacy in a society that perpetually wishes to strip it away from us.

Knight’s film may be a dystopic vision of the future, but Closed Circuit bears a striking resemblance to the world we inhabit today.

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