'Closed Circuit' (R)

Closed Circuit is the sort of movie that makes you wonder: Why was this made? Not because it’s bad; it’s not, though it has problems. It’s filmed with a sharp eye and filled with good performances. It focuses on an issue — the consequences of allowing powerful, secret government agencies to operate unchecked — that resonates deeply today.

And yet, in the end, there’s nothing that sets this film apart from any other sleek modern thriller. It’s heartbreakingly generic: All that time, money and effort, and all you’re left with is memory in shades of gray. This is not to say the cast doesn’t do its best to divert us. Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall star as Martin Rose and Claudia Simmons-Howe, barristers (and former lovers) who find themselves working together on a defense team in a tricky court case. They’re assigned to defend the suspected mastermind of a terrorist bombing that killed 125 people in a busy London market, high profile work that could make their careers. Neither wants to walk away, which leads them to lie under oath and pretend they have no connection to each other, even though the movie hints their affair led to his ugly divorce.

The case against the defendant seems simple, but of course it is not. All evidence points to the fact that some group, possibly MI5 (Britain’s intelligence agency), has had a hand in steering the case toward its inevitable outcome (especially when Martin becomes convinced his predecessor on the case didn’t commit suicide). But Martin and Claudia, estranged though they may be, are recklessly honest and intend to see justice served, at whatever cost. (Claudia is especially susceptible to foolish behavior, even though she knows she’s being watched.)

Closed Circuit’s plot is complicated, particularly on the points of law involving closed hearings, and so the script too often relies on dialogue to clumsily reveal what the audience needs to know. The exposition sounds lovely in all the British accents, but it’s still exposition. Ciaran Hinds shows up as Martin’s colleague and confidante, the only guy he can trust, while Jim Broadbent appears in slightly more sinister form. As for Julia Stiles’ reporter, the character could have been cut from the film entirely, and nobody would have missed her.

Like the recent (and much sillier) Paranoia, Closed Circuit aims to raise viewers’ fears about surveillance, showing us how Martin and Claudia can’t escape the watchful eye of Big Brother. But the movie never truly feels chilling, and its conclusion is about as unsatisfying as it can be (you will wonder why the bad guys didn’t do what they do sooner). Closed Circuit isn’t a waste of time, but it’s hard to remember much about it once you’ve left the theater.

Cast: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, Jim Broadbent, Julia Stiles.

Director: John Crowley.

Screenwriter: Steven Knight.
Producers: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Eric Fellner.

A Focus Features release. Running time: 109 minutes. Vulgar language, violence. Opens Wednesday Aug. 28 at area theaters.