The British thriller Closed Circuit falls into the second category. The movie begins well enough, creating an aura of grave seriousness and raising an important topical question: How far should governments go in limiting transparency when facing real security threats?
As director John Crowley's thriller progresses, it becomes clear that Steven Knight's screenplay is weaving such a complicated web that it will be forced to hack its way through an overabundance of detail -- often at the expense of character development that could have nourished greater involvement.
The action focuses on two attorneys (Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall) who are assigned to defend a Turkish immigrant (Denis Moschitto) who has been accused of an act of terrorism, setting off a bomb in a crowded London marketplace.
As advocates handling different parts of the case, Bana's Martin Rose and Hall's Claudia Simmons-Howe decide not to disclose to the court that they had an affair that soured, leaving rose with a ruined marriage.
Although both lawyers represent the same defendant, they have different tasks. Rose has been assigned the criminal part of the case; Claudia's job involves overcoming official resistance to sharing evidence that the government contends could compromise national security.
Both attorneys are on on the same side, but they're not supposed to talk to each other.
There's no point faulting the actors, who receive supporting help from Jim Broadbent, as an attorney general who encourages Rose to get with a program that's more interested in protecting the state than in giving the defendant a fair shake.
Also look for good work from Riz Ahmed as a government spy who's supposed to be helpful to Simmons-Howe, but who may have less honorable motives.
Crowley (Intermission and Boy A) works with cinematographer Andriano Goldman to give the movie a dark, edgy feel. But no amount of craft can justify the screenplay's cynicism, which seems to have been applied in ladle-sized helpings that drown out any honestly arrived at conviction.