Closed Circuit: Director says it’s complicated (and that’s OK)
In Closed Circuit, the new thriller from director John Crowley (Boy A, Is Anybody There?), Eric Bana and Rachel Hall play lawyers assigned to the case of a suspected terrorist. When they realize the case could implicate the British Secret Service they worry perhaps they weren’t selected because of their skills but because a previous romantic liaison compromises their integrity. Crowley recently spoke to a roundtable of reporters about the film.
Your movie deals with the English legal system. Is that a hurdle in selling the movie to anyplace other than the UK and Australia?
Possibly. I think the film isn’t limited to being about the English legal system. What’s fascinating to me is that system is such a closed world unto itself. I wanted to see if we could lift the lid and look inside. I don’t think you need expertise to enjoy the film. It’s a complicated thriller that doesn’t make it easy for you. It should be okay to not have to over-explain everything. You feel the shards of this broken relationship in the film that works itself out. What you need to know about the English system, you get the gist of, if you know nothing about it and if it doesn’t interest you. Hopefully, It looks like an interesting, slightly exotic world. If you are interested in that world, that question of closed hearings and secrecy is something you are dealing with in a different form. We can ask how comfortable one is with what the government is doing on our behalf to protect us. What happens if there are nefarious elements in there that aren’t so ethical? That’s not an easy question to answer.
Being Irish, talk about the context of the IRA. Was that in the back of your mind?
It was, but in a distant way. There’s one line that never made it into the finished film where Martin [Bana] said, “When we dealing with the IRA, you were used to me. You’re not used to me now.” I think the feeling was that even amongst the IRA, that even they went, ‘Oh shit.’ As Tony Blair said in a famous statement, the rules of the game are changing. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a game. But with the IRA, they declared war on an invading country. Their tactic was to bomb, but not bomb themselves. The way that the English system deals with terrorists is on a criminal basis. It was fascinating to me because the pressure to get convictions is intense. I have huge respect for the English system. They are very passionate people doing the best with a system they don’t entirely approve of. They think it’s the best way to ensure some due process gets done.
Talk about the casting.
I sent the script to Rebecca [Hall] because I saw her on stage and other films. She seemed to have the intelligence to play a Special Advocate. They tend to be super-intelligent mega-brains. It’s the right kind of role for her. Trying to cast Martin was tough. We wanted someone who had masculine air to him and a degree of wit. He could be arrogant and a real asshole, but he could also be charming. We sent it to him and he loved it. I met him and talked to him about the kind of film I wanted to make. He came to London with Rebecca and we spent a week in courts in London. They waited until three months later and then we shot it.
What are the basic elements that turn a suspense thriller into a classic?
When a film speaks to the concerns of its audience and does it in a subtle way, it endures. [It speaks] to the concerns of what is troubling us when we walk the streets. That’s what you want to see worked out in a drama. That’s what makes it a classic. But all you can do is make the film the best you can and hope it will connect with its audience. I really wanted the film to try to have a look at the world as I saw it in London. Hopefully, that is entertaining rather than a dry documentary. This film actually has the structure of a screwball comedy. You have this couple who can’t stand each other and yet they have to work together.
Eric said he would joke that there should be more sex and nudity in the film. Can you talk about your reluctance in that respect?
I thought if we indulged that side of it, it would undermine the seriousness of the film. In the contexts of the event when we join the story, it felt motivating when we started it. There were lots of conversations about it, but I couldn’t see how we could do it. There was one draft when they were shored up in that hotel room and it got a little frisky but it would undermine what was going to happen.
Julia Stiles provided some extra tension. Was that a nod to the Bourne films?
It’s not a nod to Bourne. I am a huge fan of those films, but I wanted to make something more classic than that. We wanted to have an event outside that courtroom that would ratchet the tension. I wanted him to realize they were closing the net. Part of the task was trying to make things off screen have a visceral effect on screen.
How did you come to the script?
It was pitched to me by Working Title. It immediately caught my attention. I was looking for a contemporary, smart thriller. The idea of one set in the English legal world fascinated me. One of the things that [screenwriter] Steve [Knight] does very well is revealing a world within a world. It’s a slightly different version of a London you don’t know so well. The idea of special advocates working behind closed quarters didn’t particularly trouble me, I must be honest. It was something I knew about but the more I read about it, it seemed like a fascinating place or context to tell a story and be the place to ask a question about how we deal with terrorism.
Why is there a shortage of brainy films for adults?
They’re all being done on TV. The film industry is abdicating responsibility for it. Even though I work in the film industry, I like to pick up a magazine or newspaper to see what I can see over the weekend. My heart sinks when I look at the paper. I love popcorn movies but every once in awhile you want to see something intelligent and it doesn’t have to be art house. I look back at weep when I see the great films they made the ’70s and realize they were summer releases.