A director's done a proper job when the simple act of bringing a pitcher of water and glasses into a room triggers thoughts of subterfuge, espionage and sinister actions. That's what John Crowley has accomplished in his legal/spy thriller "Closed Circuit."
Crowley's deft ability to build suspense is Hitchcockian in nature, from the explosive opening to the unexpected ending.
It starts like an episode of "Law & Order: UK." Martin Rose (Eric Bana), a barrister with a notorious track record for being unlikable, must step into what is being called the trial of the century in London. Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) is arrested as the mastermind behind a bombing that killed 120 people and is about to be tried using special circumstances.
Because evidence against him is considered top secret, there will be a public and closed trial. Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), a fellow lawyer and former lover of Rose, is assigned to handle the closed portion of the trial. They are not to share information once the proceedings start.
Crowley has a wicked way of structuring the movie. The mistrust and paranoia the attorneys experience grows as Crowley slowly exposes some characters as being not whom them seem, leaving the truth about others to be revealed at choice moments. It's that growing tension that makes every moment seem like a part of a super-spy game.
Bana and Hall sell the fear and confusion: Bana through his performance as a bitter but brilliant barrister and Hall through the vulnerability. Despite some longing looks, they don't show much chemistry partly the collateral damage of being told to stay apart for the good of the case.
Crowley managed to avoid plot potholes that tend to trip up thrillers. His heroic duo are no smarter at the end than when they start the film. He also doesn't turn them into action heroes. The few physical confrontations between good and evil are staged as if any lawyer working on a high-profile case could handle them.
Give partial credit to writer Steven Knight, who has created a smart tale that gets amplified by the way Crowley put the movie together. His use of footage from the array of cameras that hang over London streets adds accents to the movie's main theme that someone is always watching. The problem is that it's often impossible to tell who's being watched and who's doing the watching.
This all comes together to make "Closed Circuit" a thriller that feeds off the paranoia that comes out of Crowley's first-rate direction.
"Closed Circuit," rated R for language, brief violence. Stars Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Denis Moschitto, Julia Stiles. Directed by John Crowley. Running time: 88 minutes. Grade: B. Opens Wednesday.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.