British thriller Closed Circuit opens with a frightening image that's become all too familiar: A grid of security camera footage fills the screen, allowing us glimpses of people going about their lives in a London marketplace. Teenagers gossip. A businessman paces while on his phone. A mother pushes a stroller. Then, suddenly, there's an explosion, turning all screens gray with dust.
Director John Crowley's paranoid thriller seems ripped from recent headlines, with memories of the National Security Agency scandal and the Boston Marathon bombings evoked within seconds. For Portlanders, there's a layer that will recall Mohamed Mohamud's attempted attack on Pioneer Courthouse Square. It's scary, real-world stuff, seemingly the work of a filmmaker so tapped into current events that he can speak to worldwide fears.
Except Crowley's film doesn't address anything particularly new or relevant. Sure, Closed Circuit seems like it's responding to Boston and the NSA through a fictionalized lens, but—unless it's the most rapidly completed studio film in history—what we have here is a standard conspiracy film that benefits from being released at just the right time. It's the kind of generic "trust no one" flick that's been floating around multiplexes for decades, from The Manchurian Candidate to The Conversation to Enemy of the State, a film built on age-old fears that could be viewed and re-viewed in any context and still be relevant.
That's not to say it lacks merits. As the defense lawyer investigating the circumstances of the attacks and charged with clearing the name of a reluctant suspect, Eric Bana is superb as always. As the suspect's "special advocate," Rebecca Hall exudes intelligence and fear in equal measure, and as the film jumps from one paranoid nightmare to the next, she and Bana create a palpable tension, especially when pursued by various spooks who try to alter the truth to fit their own devices. It's part courtroom drama, part detective procedural and part foot-chase flick. Which is to say it's part riveting, part boring and part suspenseful.
What it is not, though, is topical or up-to-date. Crowley may have crafted a decent pulp thriller, but there's no sense in elevating Closed Circuit because its release date seems to make it more than simple—and, frankly, mediocre—entertainment.
Critic's Grade: C+
SEE IT: Closed Circuit is rated R. It opens Wednesday at Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Lloyd Center.