In the political thriller Closed Circuit, opening today, a truck bomb explodes in a London market, killing dozens. The surviving terrorist is assigned two lawyers—one, Martin (Eric Bana), to defend him in his public trial, the other, Claudia (Rebecca Hall) to advocate for him during the closed hearings involving classified evidence, which is kept secret even from Martin.
Claudia and Martin have an illicit romantic past—his marriage broke up over his affair with her. This creates the teeniest conflict of interest, but the lawyers, eager for the high-profile assignment, neglect to tell the judge this. Before long both of them, working separately, become aware that they’re under a near-Orwellian level of surveillance, and then that their lives are in danger, as they discover a secret at the heart of the case that the Government is willing to kill to protect. Sadly, nothing seems very implausible about any of this.
Directed by John Crowley from a script by Steven Knight, Closed Circuit hurtles forward with almost unseemly speed and economy. There isn’t a shot or a line of dialogue in the picture that could be called digressive, and the tension rises with metronomic precision, driven along by Joby Talbot’s ominous orchestral music. The atmosphere of humorless, frightened suspicion is palpable and oppressive, and the movie grips.
As usual, the acting has a lot to do with this. Bana’s charm has always been elusive to me, but here he’s supposed to be a bit of a cold fish, so he’s effective, and Hall is engaging as ever, even in this less-than-warm role. From the supporting cast comes creditable work by Ciaran Hinds, Anne-Marie Duff, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed and especially Jim Broadbent as a mild-mannered yet almost satanic Attorney General who drops into the movie now and then to level a threat in the most pleasant manner possible.
When Closed Circuit was all over, I did find myself wondering why Claudia and Martin didn’t make a point of shoving their at-risk witness in front of the TV cameras outside the Old Bailey, or why they didn’t simply say in court, in a tattletale-ish sort of voice, “M’lud, MI-5 has been trying to kill us all night.” But Closed Circuit wouldn’t be the first thriller that pulls you along so skillfully that you don’t think about its gaps in logic until after the end credits roll.
As in 1812, the British seem to have re-invaded the States—but this time they’ve targeted our multiplexes. Over the course of the week, along with Closed Circuit, at least two other movies from, by or about Brits have landed wide Yank release: the boy-band documentary One Direction: This Is Us and the Simon Pegg comedy The World’s End. The former will be discussed when it opens here Friday, so let’s talk The World’s End here…
The third entry in the “Cornetto Trilogy” of comedies written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, directed by Wright and starring Pegg and Nick Frost is now in theaters. The first, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, is a classic both of the zombie genre and of Brit comedy; the second, the 2007 cop-movie spoof Hot Fuzz, started out perhaps even more brilliantly than Shaun but ran out of steam toward the end.
World’s End resides somewhere between the two—not quite the homerun of Shaun, but ultimately more satisfying than Hot Fuzz. The main character is Gary King (Pegg) who is trying to reunite four old school friends (Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan) to have another go at a legendary but unfinished pub crawl from 1990 in their hometown of Newtown Haven, whose major claim to fame is that it’s home to Britain’s oldest roundabout.
Gary’s a scruffy loser who never grew up, while the other four have moved on to relatively mature lives—and one, Andie (Frost) bears Gary a bitter grudge. Nonetheless, all four of his friends show up for the 12-pub crawl, their sights set to finish with a pint at the pub called The World’s End.
This middle-aged outing alone might have provided enough laughs for a movie by itself, whipped forward by the snappy comic punctuation of Wright’s editing. But about midpoint, The World’s End suddenly takes a strange sci-fi twist, as the lads realize that something has changed in Newton Haven.
Really, it’s just roughly the zillionth variation on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it’s an amusing one, and the motivation of the invaders links up thematically with Gary’s personality. As with Hot Fuzz, the movie is a little overambitious—it goes on a smidge too long, and not every scene works. But there are plenty of laughs, and a few touching moments, and the performances are fine, especially by the feisty, stouthearted Frost.
It should also be noted that the final decision of the aliens with regard to humanity—pronounced by Bill Nighy as the voice of “The Network”—is basically the same as that of The Pods in Jack Finney’s original novel The Body Snatchers.