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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE: |
. "Closed Circuit"

This mystery legal thriller from Britain has as many virtues as flaws, and with a considerable quantity of each.

One of the elements on the plus side is a clever ingenuity in a plot designed for high tension and suspense. It's been calculated that London, a city of 7.2 million citizens has, in position, over 4 million closed circuit surveillance cameras (CCTVs) peering down on its citizens. Using that as a graphic device, the movie opens on a panel of views showing the hustle and bustle around the Borough market, until... a bomb blast envelops everything in panic and smoke. Terrorists have struck a favorite target once again.

Scotland Yard is on it and the good lads quickly take Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) prisoner as the only surviving member of the cell, and its leader. His trial is what this is all about. Ahh, but with terrorism involved, it's far more complicated than your eveyday criminal proceeding.

As his trial is contemplated, it's realized by the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent, "The Iron Lady") and his associates that a full defense for the accused would include classified material they couldn't even allow their defendant to see. The only way the UK can convict this creep in a "trial-of-the-century" would be to hold two separate hearings, one public and one behind locked doors.

Accordingly, this calls for two barristers for the defense, one for the public part of the the trial, and a "special advocate" representing the secret part. As the Attorney General lays his cases before his two choices, they are sworn to absolutely no contact or communication between them as part of the strict rules and procedure of the differering classes of evidence, etc.

Enter attorneys Martin Rose (Eric Bana, "Star Trek") for the public side, and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall, "Iron Man 3") for the sensitive area. That is, after the first defense lawyer appointed fell off a roof and died.

Adding spice to the narrative is the background relationship Rose and Simmons-Howe had as former lovers -- but that's as classified as the legal material. Which isn't the worst of the matter. While Bana and Hall are superb actors, the evidence of their prior intimacy or traces of emotional chemistry are things we wait for in vain.

It could be a case of British formality and a prevailing taste for understatement, but it comes off as if their significant others are watching from the wings for any sign of something that's not on the written page. Which is an opportunity lost, especially as they give in to the competitive nature of barristering, aided and abetted by the issues of breaking up.

Assisting in the suspense department, are MI5 agent Nazrul Sharma (Riz Ahmed), Melissa (Anne-Marie Duff) and, with a bit of Brit humor, agent Devlin (Ciaran Hinds, "John Carter") who apparently is Martin's cheerleader-in-chief. Mixing into the culture of jurisprudence and spycraft is news reporter Joanna Reece (Julia Stiles, "Silver Linings Playbook") who, though written as a peripheral figure without romantic designs on our handsome leading man (or, at least not making it obvious), shows what's missing between him and his co-lead. But then, Stiles gives off sparks like a welder on hot slag whatever she's in.

Director John Crowley and screenwriter Steven Knight ("Eastern Promises") have their way with a setting made for high tension in a taut 96 minutes but seem to lose their grip along the way. Too much held secret for too long, stacked up betrayal, risk taking, understatement? Somewhere along the way the promise of a big dramatic payoff dissipates behind a shield of talk about the imminence of their demise.

The overall result doesn't live up to the level of talent on both sides of the camera and a valiant determination to devise a dynamic, never-done-before premise. Certainly, part of the film's problem is that the emotional core of the story comes with its own case of closed-circuitry.

But, don't get me wrong -- it's not a total miss. As a lover of conspiracy thrillers, Crowley's building of suspense and interest in the cool astuteness of his innuendo-aware characters found enough footing on my entertainment baseline to forgive his film's failures. Witness the zippy pace of Lucia Zucchetti's ("The Queen") editing, the flawless, razor sharp cinematography by Adriano Goldman (" The Company You Keep"), etc.) and a cast that invested a lot in what they were doing.

The upside to the production is the dynamics of plot twists, the shadowy ruthlessness of the clandestine forces, the exposure of a controlling culture and the tightly wound abandonment of integrity in a whirl of betrayal, dissimulation and the arrogance of winning at all costs.

This hour-and-a-half on bringing enemies to justice and the miscalulations of a major UK security agency caused me to go home with a degree of satisfaction and, even, to recommend it... with qualifiers.

Pity, that.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  
[Also see Red Road," a drama against the British use of surveillance cameras>.]

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Eric Bana and Jim Broadbent
The Attorney General presents a peculiar case to the defending barrister.

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