Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall talk Closed Circuit

August 28, 2013

By Piers Marchant
for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels

-ClosedCircuitHollywood stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall would certainly make an arresting couple if they ever were so inclined, if in no other way than as an interesting contrast to each other’s body language. Bana, lanky and more lean than his bulked-up physique in Troy a few years back, sits straight in his plush hotel-room chair and largely answers questions in standard meet-the-press mode; Hall, her brown hair cut stylishly shoulder-length and wavy, puts one foot comfortably on her seat and raises her knee to her chin, as if she were chatting with a good friend rather than a phalanx of entertainment journalists, and answers with something resembling considered honesty. Despite their differences of countenance, however, they remain the two most attractive and viable people in the room so, witnessed in close proximity, you can’t help but connect them together.

Ironic, then, that they barely hold anything more than each other’s attention in Closed Circuit, their new political intrigue thriller, which the two of them, along with director John Crowley, are in New York to promote. In the film, they play a couple of high-level British barristers who, in fact, had engaged in an illicit affair together some time ago, but now are having to work more or less alongside one another to defend a Turkish national accused of masterminding a horrific bomb attack on a busy London market some months before.

Bana is the plaintiff’s lead council, brought in after the initial barrister commits suspicious suicide in the middle of his case preparation. Hall plays his Special Advocate — a quirky British legal wrinkle first begun under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, designed specifically for terrorist cases — wherein a separate defense attorney is brought in solely to argue the classified information held against their client. Fittingly enough, for these two bitter former lovers, the law requires them to have as little contact as possible throughout the proceedings, but that’s before bodies start hitting the ground and the pair realize they’re unwittingly embroiled in a massive political cover-up that threatens their lives in addition to their careers.

The decision to keep their characters from jumping into bed together, it turns out, was very much a conscious choice by director John Crowley (Boy A, Intermission) and screenwriter Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises): “I thought that if we indulged more of that side of it that actually it would undermine the seriousness of the film a bit,” Crowley explains almost apologetically in his clipped Irish accent. “In the context of events when we join the story, I couldn’t see how to do it.”

Agrees co-star Hall, daughter of legendary British theater director Peter Hall: “I think there was this very sort of pure notion at the beginning that everything should be in the past between them.”

Despite Bana’s jocular protests — the actor kept jostling his director and co-star to include a substantive sex scene. “I joked with them every day that we’d be coming back and doing some very raunchy re-shoots,” he says. “This movie is gonna open in America they’re going to want to see something” — it’s pretty clear he was in agreement with his co-star. “I loved the fact that, really, there’s an element of this that is a love story in which we see no affectionate moments,” he says. “You essentially have a love story where the two main characters don’t come anywhere near each other in a traditional sense.”

The trio’s instinct proves to be correct. Without belaboring the obvious sexual tensions between his two lead characters, Crowley’s thriller is allowed to play off of entirely different sorts of elements, not the least of which involve the way crimes can still remain shrouded in doubt and mystery in England despite London’s extensive network of security cameras probing through and dutifully recording everyone’s private experience.

The film opens with a dizzying number of simultaneous security camera feeds, all recording the activities of a single morning in a London shopping market, each exposing the exact moment when a terrorist bomb suddenly detonates. A suspect is quickly apprehended, but its then that things get decidedly cloudy. Despite the intrusion into the privacy of its citizens, the country’s legal system is still saddled with excruciating choices, which is where director Crowley feels it should remain. “I think that technology is ahead of ethics and morality,” he says, “and it always should be and that’s the right structure. The moment when ethics gets ahead of technology is dangerous, close to totalitarianism.”

The end result of their efforts is one of the rarest sightings amongst big-studio films these days: an intelligent thriller. It’s not intended for bratty adolescents on summer break expecting a series of impossible stunts set behind a string of thermo-nuclear explosions, it’s meant for adults looking for a certain amount of brain stimulation along with the saline spike from their popcorn. For her part, Hall was attracted to the project for exactly those reasons. “I loved the flavor that it had of those conspiracy films that were made [in America] in the ’70s,” she says. “No one’s made a sort of paranoia thriller set in London and it’s a very right place for it.”

She is also quick to explicate on the particular political bent of the movie, which suggests the uneasy, ever-wavering line between personal privacy and public safety is an extremely delicate affair: “It’s the question that we’re all facing now in a time — post Snowden and all these things that are coming out — it’s one thing to be idealistic about civil liberties but [another] also to live in a state that’s secure. How do you balance those two, perhaps mutually exclusive, concepts?”

“It’s the question that we’re all facing now in a time — post Snowden and all these things that are coming out — it’s one thing to be idealistic about civil liberties but [another] also to live in a state that’s secure. How do you balance those two, perhaps mutually exclusive, concepts?”

Where the film works best is when its dealing with these very real-world issues. If nothing else, it’s a decent primer for the precarious provocations happening within the legal systems of world powers all over the globe. The threat of terrorism has forced countries and their citizens into levels of paranoia, suspicion and a ready dissolution of civil liberties that would have seemed unthinkable two decades before. As Crowley puts it, “there was a question that we could ask [in the film] about how comfortable one is with what the government is doing on our behalf to protect us. And if they’re crossing lines ethically, what happens if there are ever nefarious elements who may not be as ethical?”

It’s relatively heavy stuff, but, as we are all placed in this well-furnished hotel room to promote and discuss a film, the conversation turns naturally back to the nature of the stars themselves. As to the intriguing notion that Bana and Hall, as recognizably famous, already suffer from the conspicuous lack of private space the film is suggesting, Bana, ever deadpan, seems largely unconcerned. “I think it was worse a couple years ago for whatever reason,” he says, folding his hands together. “I think people have gotten less excited about the fact that their phone’s got a camera.”

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