46 posts categorized "Thiller"

August 27, 2013


Espionage Everywhere
British Spy Thriller Scratches the Surface on Endemic Surveillance

Closed CircuitGaping plot holes don’t prevent this nearly current espionage thriller from grabbing its audience and keeping them hooked all the way to its socially volatile ending. As the title hints, England’s CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) method of public [and private] surveillance comes into play during a case involving the terrorist bombing of Burough Market in central London. The trial of a foreign suspect plays out in a secret London court where romantically-linked defense attorneys (played by Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall) struggle to find the truth beneath a thick stack of government-propagated deceptions.

Audiences familiar with the NSA scandal regarding America’s secret FISA court-approved surveillance of every aspect of foreign and domestic communication will be ahead of the film’s curve. Still, it is no less comforting to recognize that the UK is just as much of a police state as the US.

The movie has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Eric Bana’s ever-reliable presence — this time as Martin Rose, a defense attorney called upon to defend the bombing’s accused mastermind Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) after the “suicide” of the original defense advocate. Bana’s terse masculinity serves the part well. You always have the sense that Bana’s self-possessed character is the kind of man who doesn’t need to carry a gun to defend himself.

Similar to America’s bogus justice system for accused terrorists, the British courts deem the evidence so “sensitive” that the imprisoned defendant is not allowed to know the details of the charges being brought against him. Supposedly unaware of Martin’s romantic past, the court appoints Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall) to the defense team. Although one of the attorneys should in good conscience recuse himself or herself, Martin and Claudia have too much ambition to let such an opportunity for media exposure pass unexploited. They are willing to risk their careers — all or nothing. Never mind that once either of them receives the evidence, it becomes illegal for them to communicate in any way. This is where the story’s biggest plot hole opens up. Although the screenwriters do their best to fill in the gap for the court’s motivation behind such a problematic pairing, the predominant surveillance element of the plot gets in the way.

Director John Crowley (“Boy A”) keeps the tense dramatic movement tight through quick plot reversals that slingshot the story toward a logical, or illogical conclusion — depending on your perspective. Although the film’s action sequences are limited, punches of gritty encounters strike with lightening bolt efficiency. Crowley’s use of surveillance camera footage heightens the drama, although the director doesn’t utilize the effect with sufficient purpose to serve the storyline.

As with other surveillance-themed movies made recently, screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”) lacked knowledge of the Edward Snowden disclosures that have alerted the world to a depth of US and UK government corruption — some of which is on display here.

As it stands, “Closed Circuit” is a well-executed sketch of an unethical government and judicial system exploiting the public's fear of the unknown in order to manipulate the same terrorist acts it pretends to defend against. You get the sense that the number of surveillance-related espionage is about to get a lot deeper over the course of the next few years.

Rated R. 96mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 08, 2012


All Talk
Lynne Ramsay Can’t Commit to Horror
By Cole Smithey

We_need_to_talk_about_kevinForced, stultifying, and artificial beyond belief, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's off-key treatment of Lionel Shriver's novel. Ramsay co-wrote the screenplay with brother-in-law Rory Kinnear. The story is about a bad-seed son who terrorizes his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) from the minute he's born.

Unsure of whether it wants to be a cynical drama or a horror thriller, the poorly paced film inches through Kevin's bad behavior from infant to teenager. The only thing more reprehensible than Kevin’s unwarranted hatred of his mother is his parents’ unwillingness to straighten the kid out even as his behavior spirals out of control.

Kevin plays nice when daddy Franklin (played by a miscast John C. Reilly) is around but he has a knack for methodically pushing his mom's buttons the rest of the time. As an infant, Kevin never stops screaming, except when dad’s around. At six-years-old, Kevin trashes his mom's newly designed home office with a squirt gun filled with paint. Discipline is off the table. Instead, daddy gives Kevin a toy bow-and-arrow set reinforced by readings from Robin Hood--the only book Kevin owns. Later, Kevin will graduate to a high-powered bow, also given as a gift from pops. The teenaged Kevin is bound for disaster. However, when the much foreshadowed crisis moment finally comes, it arrives with all the force of an overflowing bathtub—not the least because it occurs off-screen.


Production designer Judy Becker’s lazy approach relegates the film’s mise en scène to an afterthought. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a text book example of how not to design a film. Everything is bright shiny surfaces without texture or depth. Context is nowhere in sight.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” plays like a narrative negative. What the viewer sees are all the extraneous scenes between what should be shown. It’s as if the editor confused what was on the editing room floor with what should have gone into the projector.

Filmed in stagnate fly-on-the-wall compositions, the film emphasizes Tilda Swinton's inscrutable performance as a woman unable or unwilling to come to grips with her nightmare spawn. In short, Eva is the same brand of idiot as her husband and her diabolical son. There’s no one to empathize with in the story-not even Kevin’s abused younger sister who barely shows up except to be inexplicably blinded in one eye by her hateful sibling.


Some people should never be parents; some children should never be born; some novels don't deserve to be made into films. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a minimalist mystery with no hook. Whether there’s more to Shiver’s novel of “maternal ambivalence” is immaterial. The movie sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from a well executed art film like "Melancholia," whose characters take action in a framework of fertile social commentary. Rather, “Kevin” falls into a pejorative category with half-films such as “Martha Marcy May Marlene” or “Shame” where the abstract narrative and underdeveloped themes never connect. It’s not enough to instigate suspense. There has to be a story. Moreover there has to be character development. You won’t find any such luxuries here.


The parents of a psychopathic child don’t even bother to have the conversation the film's title suggests. Perhaps the filmmakers hope their audience will do their verbal articulation for them in circular what-if conversations. Sadly, there isn't much to say about Kevin except that he wasn't properly disciplined as a child and so he went all Columbine without going so far as to take his own life. A year ago Mumblecore was the dumbest film movement around. Now dumb is the province of a minimalist subgenre that has yet to be named. Perhaps we should call it the “Shame on Martha and Kevin” movement. Let’s just hope it stops here. Film audiences should be so lucky.

Rated R. 112 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

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December 01, 2011


Tinker,-Tailor,-Soldier,-SpCold War Spies
John le Carré's Novel Goes Full Tilt
By Cole Smithey

International espionage during the Cold War period of the early ‘70s, as practiced by British MI6 double agents, is one very icy dish. Director Tomas Alfredson ("Let ther Right One In") peels back myriad shades of atmospheric gray that contribute thoroughly to his spook characters' consciously modulated mannerisms. The result is a spot-on adaptation of John le Carré's famous 1974 novel. Husband-and-wife screenwriters Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor execute the finest novel-to-film adaptation you could imagine. Crisscross strains of Bertolucci's "The Conformist" flow through cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark compositional choices. Composer Alberto Iglesias contributes to the film’s tense mood with musical motifs that push and pull at the seething drama onscreen.

Tinker tailor

John Hurt delivers a prehensile performance as Control, the head of Britain’s CIA equivalent, before a failed mission costs him his job. Control orders MI6 field spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) on a Black Ops mission to Budapest to arrange for the defection of a Hungarian general with knowledge about the identity of an MI6 mole who has been passing off secrets to the Russians. Skullduggery hangs thick in the Eastern European air. Their quiet meeting at an outdoor café is interrupted by a sickening bit of suspenseful violence that occurs with sloppy fury. Far removed from the glossy action of a James Bond movie, cold blooded death comes as an occupational hazard. No agent is immune regardless of his depth of experience. A mole in the upper echelon of MI6 is surely to blame. Uncovering his identity makes up the narrative meat of the film.

As the mystery unfolds, sharply constructed flashback sequences bring the secret inner lives of each involved spy into focus.

The film’s nursery rhyme-informed title refers to the codenames of the suspected British spies who call their London headquarters by its alternate title, the Circus. Irony drips from the word since nothing about the industrial building with its harsh florescent lights or soundproof conference room displays any sense of humor.

Tinker Tailor OldmanGary Oldman’s implacable “Beggarman” George Smiley is Control’s former right-hand man called out of retirement to uncover the traitor among the group. The mole has been giving away carefully-guarded secrets for so long that it calls into question the value the entire MI6 agency. Toby Jones plays the “Tinker” Percy Alleline to Colin Firth’s well spoken “Tailor” Bill Haydon. Ciarán Hinds brings his stoic nature to bear as Roy Bland, the “Soldier” of the group. Tom Hardy turns in an emotionally moving portrayal as Ricki Tarr, a love-blinded spy gone rogue. You couldn’t hope for a better ensemble of actors. There’s no such thing as a throwaway scene in the entire film. Here’s a film to sit back and savor every moment.


“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is more than a character study. It is an examination of a highly skilled occupation that demands such complete and utter commitment that all emotional response must be submerged to a point of permanent poker-faced resolve. No one can be trusted and yet loyalty to the group is mandatory. A company Christmas party where the agents pretend to let their hair down momentarily arrives as a key repeated sequence for what it says about the way British spies of the period interacted. Every jovial smile conceals suspicion and secrets. Tomas Alfredson’s flawless staging provides a fly-on-the-wall view that allows the audience to peek behind the characters’ well-defended shroud of secrecy to discover yet another one that hides beneath. The story is about how loyalty and integrity are enforced in a spy agency where such values add up to much more than a simple matter of life and death. They represent the safety and viability of an entire system of government.

Rated R. 128 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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