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CLOSED CIRCUIT – Joby Talbot

September 19, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

closedcircuitOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Closed Circuit is a British political thriller about domestic terrorism. Directed by John Crowley and written by Steven Knight, the film stars Eric Bana as Martin Rose, a lawyer who, after his predecessor is found dead, is hired to defend Farroukh Erdogan, a Turkish native accused of masterminding a successful terrorism attack on a busy London market several months previously. Due to the sensitive nature of the case, and peculiarities in British judicial law, a second lawyer is also hired to defend Erdogan, but unlike Martin, she is allowed to have access to classified and potentially damaging secret evidence that can only be aired in a closed court. The problem is that the second lawyer is Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Lowe), Martin’s secret former lover. However, as Martin and Claudia build their respective cases, evidence comes to light of a much bigger and more wide-spread case of corruption and underhandedness which could spread all the way into MI5, Britain’s secret service agency. The film features a plethora of heavyweight British character actors in supporting roles, including Jim Broadbent and Ciarán Hinds, as well as Julia Stiles in an extended cameo as an American journalist.

The music for Closed Circuit is by the English composer Joby Talbot, still best known in the UK for his work on the classic TV comedy series The League of Gentlemen and as the keyboardist and arranger for the alternative pop band The Divine Comedy, but whose last international hit was the 2005 big-screen adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m a little disappointed that Talbot’s career never quite took off the way I hoped it would, as both League of Gentlemen and Hitchhiker’s Guide were so good, but I’m pleased he is still getting some high profile assignments for films with box office potential.

Whereas as both League of Gentlemen and Hitchhiker’s Guide were large, orchestral, and thematically strong, Closed Circuit is a very different musical animal. There is an orchestra there, of course, mostly strings and percussion, but the overall tone of the score is one of tension and suspense. Instead of being bold and expansive, the score is introverted and secretive, only barely revealing itself to the listener with occasional flashes of an orchestral moment or a cathartic release. Instead, for most of its running time, Closed Circuit is a score filled with minimal string sustains, piano chords, synth pulses, and an overall air of anxiety and dread, following the characters around London as they make progressively more disturbing discoveries about the case in hand, and capturing every terrible revelation with an ever-increasing sense of foreboding.

Only once in a while does the music make a statement where the listener would sit up and take notice. The opening “Borough Market Bomb” has a threatening two-note piano motif, counting down the moments to disaster like a metronome, while the subsequent “Wheels Within Wheels” and parts of “Leave to Remain” and “A Reason to Get You” have an urgent and energetic percussion rhythm occasionally enlivened by skillful, fluid cello thrusts. This former cue also introduces the delicate, florid piano motif for Martin Rose’s character, which gradually develops into a hesitant and slightly downbeat love theme for Martin and Claudia, as heard in the appropriately-named “Claudia and Martin” and the lusher, conventionally romantic “No Right Way Out”. Probably the best cue on the album is actually the final one, “Questions in the House”, which finally allows Talbot’s music to rise to the fore, presenting a prominent string and piano theme with a slithery, off-kilter tonality that ushers in the end credits roll.

Some vaguely middle-eastern textures crop up in “The Shrine”, a cue which pits a more urgent rhythmic string section against what sounds like a glass harmonica and a muted duduk, giving some musical voice to Farroukh Erdogan and his cultural heritage, but this is as far as Talbot goes in terms of creating a geographically specific sound for any part of the rest of the score. Meanwhile, the electronic sound design is competent but keeps itself generally in the background of the score, augmenting the orchestra with a contemporary vibe where necessary, and adding a sense of forward motion in several cues, but never drowning out the acoustic heart of the piece.

These few highlights aside, unfortunately, for large chunks of time, Closed Circuit is actually a slightly dreary score. It works well in the context of the film, adding the level of anticipation and drama that the narrative required, but as a separate listening experience cues like “Clarifying the Situation”, “Wembley Stadium”, the slightly frenetic “Should Have Kept Her Mouth Shut” and “The Execution” get a little tiresome, dragging on for a combined total of over 20 long minutes. They concentrate on repeated ambiences, heartbeat-like rhythms and moody moving string-and-piano textures that only occasionally present anything resembling a coherent musical identity – although, interestingly, “Should Have Kept Her Mouth Shut” and “The Execution” are two of the few cues to feature any brass, in the form of a buzzing, insistent single-note chord.

The central action sequence of the film is underscored by the cue “Where’s the Boy”. The first half of the cue is an extended exercise in stylized percussion, featuring numerous overlapping and enveloping textures ranging from kettle drums and tapped cymbals to electronic pulses, industrial groans, high-register string sustains and brooding cello chords, all designed to heighten the listener’s sense of anxiety. The second half of the cue is the action payoff, during which Talbot plays his brasses and cellos off against each other in a more prominent and aggressive fashion that is quite enjoyable. It’s all very effective, and adds a level of unease to the film itself, but while the complexity of the amalgamated sounds is certainly impressive, it still suffers the same fate as its predecessors by just going on too long. The first four and a half minutes of this cue is a chore to sit though while waiting for the climax, and this is the album’s downfall as a whole – there is just way too much filler overwhelming the moments of musical excellence.

I guess I have to chalk Closed Circuit up as a necessary step in Joby Talbot’s career, showing that he can write this sort of material confidently, illustrating another string to his musical bow, and getting his name attached to a fairly high profile movie for the first time in several years. It’s just a shame that the end result is such an underwhelming listening experience. Talbot has bags of musical talent, as he has shown in pretty much all of his previous scores, so if this is your first experience of his music, don’t judge him by this score alone.

Buy the Closed Circuit soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Borough Market Bomb (1:58)
  • Wheels Within Wheels (4:35)
  • The Shrine (5:28)
  • Claudia and Martin (2:06)
  • Leave To Remain (1:41)
  • Clarifying the Situation (6:42)
  • Wembley Stadium (6:26)
  • A Reason To Get You (1:40)
  • Should Have Kept Her Mouth Shut (6:36)
  • No Right Way Out (2:25)
  • Your Part of the Bargain (2:09)
  • The Execution (3:33)
  • Where’s the Boy? (7:24)
  • Questions In the House (2:41)

Running Time 55 minutes 24 seconds

Back Lot Music (2013)

Music composed by Joby Talbot. Conducted and orchestrated by Matt Dunkley. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Michael Connell. Album produced by Joby Talbot.

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