Niagara Gazette

August 27, 2013

CALLERI: From Britain, without much love; a spy movie flails about

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A pair of movies from Britain has entered the public consciousness as Hollywood and film fans enter the festival season that has kicked-off in Venice, shifts to Telluride, and then takes over Toronto. The latter’s movie marathon begins the Thursday after Labor Day.

Last weekend, “The World’s End,” a scattershot trifle from the English comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, vainly tried to wrest money from North Americans. Pegg and Frost’s movie failed, limping to a weak Friday through Sunday take of $8.7 million. The figure seems acceptable, but it isn’t. Even considering the film’s low $20 million budget, that’s not a good box office. Audiences preferred the beautifully acted intelligence of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” the silly bawdiness of “We’re The Millers,” and the history lesson told in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

“The World’s End” is about five English schoolmates who went to high school together and decades later are compelled to complete a failed pub crawl in their hometown because of the urging of the most unproductive graduate among them. The movie is funny for the first half hour because it’s about something substantial, a man who won’t grow up. Than it switches gears and becomes a slapdash pile of faltering familiarity about robots run amok. The ending is completely wrongheaded. Director Edgar Wright co-wrote the screenplay with Pegg. Their film lacks cohesion. Think of a slapstick “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers,” but without any style.

This weekend, the British are hoping to lure moviegoers with “Closed Circuit.” I enjoy thrillers, especially spy movies and pictures filled with political intrigue. Government duplicity and intense paranoia can make for engaging moviegoing.

“Closed Circuit” starts out interesting. At the start, a television monitor becomes two monitors and then four, and then doubles again and again. Closed circuit cameras watch everyone and everything. We’re at the historic Borough Market in London, the site of which has been a gathering place for food shoppers since 1041. An explosion fills the screen. Hundreds are killed, many more are injured. A suspect is arrested. He’s assigned a lawyer, who dies. We’re barely ten minutes into the film.

And then, like air going out of a balloon, the movie deflates into tedium. Dramatic action and smart editing are replaced by a lumbering ineffective story, which never captures the energy and excitement of the film’s opening scenes. Steven Knight’s screenplay concentrates on backroom deals and whispered asides, all delivered in dreary PBS-style Britishspeak. You know, stereotypical heavily accented mutteringS, and “tut tuts,” and “my good man.” One character even says, “what with the nasty divorce and custody battles and all that.”

Eric Bana is assigned to be the suspect’s new lawyer and through a plot contrivance that is ridiculous, he is forced to work with, but not talk to, his ex-wife, played by Rebecca Hall, who is neither a lively actress, nor an interesting one. Jim Broadbent is the Attorney General, which in this movie makes him the puppeteer. As a bothersome official, Ciaran Hinds prowls about looking for all the world like Boris Karloff at a petting zoo. There are courtroom games and strange protocols that are part of the plot simply to advance the lethargic story.

For example, that old chestnut about secret testimony comes into play. Keep the public unaware is one fellow’s mantra. And as a token nod to modernity, there’s a child with an important hand-held game who’s being hidden by a mysterious British agent. But the duplicitous fellow is played by such a youthful and lightweight actor, that these scenes can’t be taken seriously. He would be better cast as a stable-hand, but there isn’t one in the picture.

Bana and Hall aren’t supposed to know about the kid because the bombing suspect just might be working for someone whose identity would shock the nation. But perhaps he isn’t. By the time the loose ends are tied up in a very clumsy way, I didn’t care. Upper echelon powers, indeed.

Director John Crowley’s movie is so disjointed, that rather than allowing the audience to be engaged by wondering about the enemy within, it becomes its own worst enemy. It holds the audience at arm’s length. You never feel invited to embrace the dark shadows and furtive glances. One of the problems is that you’re straining to hear what everyone is saying. I have never had a problem understanding the British, or in Bana’s case, Australians pretending to be British, but the dialogue here is spoken so softly, and with so much mumbling, that they should have served tea at the screening I attended.

Thrillers should thrill. This one doesn’t. The movie is from the team that brought you “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.” If that one made you sleepy, “Closed Circuit” just might put you into a coma.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.