Then there's the fact that it stars Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Riz Ahmed, Anne-Marie Duff, Jim Broadbent and Julia Styles, a good list of stars indeed. With the cast and the premise it sounded an interesting film, and I'm a lover of a good thriller so it moved onto my watch list.
I last saw Eric Bana in the decent thriller Dead Fall (Filmstalker Review), a film which never really saw a proper release nor got a lot of attention, again despite the strong list of cast names behind it. Bana was very good in that film which, despite a clichéd and tired ending, did deliver a good thriller. Was this to fare any better?
The film opens with rather confusing footage, a feeling you carry through for a good portion of the first act, and that's both good and bad, the good being that the story slowly unravels and reveals itself to you, the bad we'll come to.
However there's something else about the footage that put me on the wrong footing for the film, it's meant to be CCTV and yet it has clearly post produced sound with the main voices easily pulled out over the obviously faked background noises.
It wasn't just the sound that felt wrong with this footage it was the picture itself which, in all of the CCTV footage here and throughout the film, was high definition and showed little difference to the rest of the film. This wouldn't have stood out for me too much if the film hadn't then used grainy and rough news footage straight afterwards to give an authentic feel, something that was clearly missing from the CCTV footage. This may seem a small issue to you but then it's a barrier to accepting the reality in the film, it stuck from the beginning.
There's another problem I had with the CCTV footage, just what purpose did it service in the film? It seemed that we were just being reminded that there was high definition CCTV footage being taken but there was only one scene in the film that seemed to actually act on it, and this was a few seconds to tell us that the security services had found the characters. It didn't last long nor have any real plot impact.
If the footage was there to build our paranoia and make us feel more uncomfortable, highlighting that our leading characters were under surveillance then there was no need because we had already gained this knowledge and feeling from some far better developed and filmed scenes. Moments like the change of security guard in the entranceway to Rebecca Hall's character's flat, the same number in the taxi that Eric Bana's character hails a number of times, or the timed appearance of the Attorney General played by Jim Broadbent and his grey area commentary. Scenes like this felt far more effective as builders of tension and suspense and explanations of the covert surveillance than the poor use of faked CCTV footage.
That's a problem with a number of scenes in the film, they just weren't necessary and went some way to either clouding the actual story and the development or breaking the subtlety of the storytelling. The building of the paranoia feeling is going well but the CCTV feels obtrusive, unrealistic, and pushed in for no reason - that too can be said of other scenes such as the visit to the construction site where the terrorist attack took place, showing the explosion again just after Bana's character walks us through the events and before we see the walls of remembrance. The placing here of the visual explosion feels cheap, in poor taste in the context of the story and doesn't tell the audience anything more than the viewing of the wall does.
The thing is there's a good story in here and the potential for a strong thriller. While it is quite heavy up front with information which doesn't always feel is connected well enough to help the audience flow along with the events, it is promising of a good film. There's a dip in the middle of the film during an action sequence which feels a little muddled and perhaps could do with another edit, but you do find yourself being caught up with the thriller side and the predicament of the two leading characters, when you catch up with the story that is.
A good thriller often has some strong surprises and twists and this film definitely has a couple of these in the final act. Some moments were big surprises looking back at them but they didn't hit as hard as I thought they should have, and while I recognised the big reveal it wasn't filling me with awe or shock. That's not to say these scenes aren't well written, filmed or acted, take for example the scene with Broadbent's character chatting to Bana's in the hospital which is all three, and particularly well written. I really enjoyed this scene and the character's dialogue back and forth however it just didn't feel as important as it should have. I felt that throughout the film at many of the moments that should have been the hard hitters.
That's one example of a great moment in the film of which there are a good number. The actors have strong lines, good characters and good situations in which to deliver them, and these actors can and do deliver them well. Anne-Marie Duff gives a strong performance especially during her scenes in the dock, while both Bana and Hall are good to watch in their leading roles. Julia Stiles and Ciarán Hinds are woefully underused and Riz Ahmed plays a particularly unsettling character well although he doesn't get that much screen time either.
Steven Knight wrote the script, and you can feel that in some of the stronger scenes with the relevant story threads, some of which do hold a lot of interest. These are engaging, current and well conceived. You may know Knight's writing from films such as Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace and Eastern Promises. The film was directed by John Crowley, he also has Intermission, Boy A and Is Anybody There? on his filmography.
Closed Circuit is a decent thriller with some strong talent behind and in front of the camera. Indeed it has all the ingredients to be an exciting thriller but I can't help but think some more careful editing could have resulted in a much better final product. Not only would it remove the whole CCTV idea, the threads of which are intrusive, unsubtle and a complete distraction, but also to give the audience some time to breathe between downloads of information through the first act.
It's a strange thing that I've now seen two Eric Bana starring thrillers which have seen him deliver good performances and themselves delivered good thrillers, but have both ended up with limited releases and in which all the elements fail to reach their true potential. The other is the recent Dead Fall (Filmstalker Review).
Although there are problems with Closed Circuit, if you can pay close attention during the first act and stay with the story you are rewarded because it is both intelligent and relevant. It just feels that nothing quite lives up to their potential that the story promises.