It's expected that the movies released over Labor Day weekend will be less than spectacular, the assumption being that most moviegoers will be out and about searching for a hammock or bidding goodbye to the shimmer of summer.
So it was a pleasant surprise when the Brit thriller "Closed Circuit" appeared, starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, both capable of delivering fine performances.
Some caveats: the plot is a labyrinth, a maze of details that asks the audience to pay very close attention. Some movies you can glide through. Not this one. There is a lot of stuff going on that at times seems convoluted yet finds clarity when needed.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The opening first moments are riveting. Showing multiple screens simultaneously, each representing a different surveillance camera angle of the same moment, we see a crowded London marketplace, people walking, merchants hustling their wares, mothers with small children in strollers, couples sitting and talking. Yet, its normality feels ominous. And then a white commercial truck enters all the frames, backing up slowly, a man's voice insisting to the driver of the truck that he can't park here. And then, abruptly, there's an explosion. A terrorist bomb has been detonated and the screens are clouded with smoke. Sirens can be heard in the distance. Obscured by the billowing dust, the carnage (some 100 people were killed) is never shown. Thankfully. But then "Closed Circuit" is never gratuitous.
Cut to two barristers, Martin Rose (Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), who have been recruited to represent the alleged mastermind of the plot (Denis Moschitto), slight in stature, a man of vague Middle Eastern origins.
What is quickly made clear is that there will be no open court trial. Government secrets are in play, their nondisclosure essential to England's national security. Claudia will be the barrister defending the alleged terrorist (she is his special advocate) and is solely allowed to scrutinize the evidence against him. The hearing before a magistrate will be held behind closed doors. Not even Martin, his general counsel, will be allowed to be present or view any evidence. And he and Claudia must have no contact whatsoever.
And so the audience enters, along with Martin and Claudia, a clandestine world of closely held secrets, as well as implied and overt threats, unexpected duplicity, all placing them in positions of jeopardy that they can't quite sort out. To complicate matters, they have had an affair that ended badly.
The narrative is presented in a straightforward, unadorned manner. Very English. And from the first opening scenes until the conclusion, it moves nicely along as facts and surprises are revealed and the tension mounts.
For those who enjoy the laconic manner in which British filmmakers offer up this genre, count on being entertained. The film is very watchable.
As for the title, "Closed Circuit," it's a vague reference to the fact that the citizens of England are the subject to surveillance 24/7, each street corner filled with benign-looking cameras, all watching, filling remote screens with images, watched, it's assumed, by countless anonymous eyes. And it's this fact that gives "Closed Circuit" its context, though it is never fully explored, nor is the issue of privacy, personal or public. But perhaps that's another movie.
"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones."
You clearly have to be a girl fan of Cassandra Clare's teen fantasy novels to understand the title. Even then"¦ If there are mortal instruments in a city filled with bones, I missed both. What is clear is that the adapted movie is, in essence, "Twilight"/"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" lite.
The film opens with Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a moody teenage girl who is at odds with her mom regarding her recent behavior. She compulsively draws a strange symbol causing her mom concern and sparking an argument. Clary stalks out of their Brooklyn apartment, accompanied by her long-time friend and classmate, Simon (Robert Sheehan).
So far all seems age-appropriate and normal. Until men in 16th-century Goth gear and swords arrive, break down the apartment door and kidnap Clary's mother (Lena Headley). When Clary comes home the apartment is a shambles and no mother to be found.
Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), blond, tattooed, shows up and explains to Clary that she is not your average human (called "mundanes," similar to the Muggles in Harry Potter). She's a shadow hunter, meaning an angel sent to earth to find and kill shape-shifting demons.
And so begins a convoluted narrative that is stuffed with werewolves, vampires, witches, demons, ravens, warlocks, a watery portal to the past, all causing trouble while Clary and Jace and Simon search desperately for The Mortal Cup. Really?
While the story is cheesy and confusing (some might even call it a parody), girl fans will not agree. For them, this franchise film is taken seriously. Very.