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The Closed Circuit is a strong political thriller with a few weak scenes that nearly derail it. The film is based on a true story, and it highlights just how different the American capitalist system is from the Polish one.

Hunters and Hunted

Gajos exudes confidence as the senior bureaucrat
Gajos exudes confidence as the senior bureaucrat

Three young businessmen have developed a new technology that’s sure to make all of its investors rich. But at the Navar corporate launch party, two older men, government regulators named Andrzej and Miroslaw, smell a rat. How did these young entrepreneurs get the capital to build their prototype?

The new kid in the tax department is Kamil (Wojciech Zoladkowicz), a square-jawed recent graduate, a generation younger than the self-assured Andrzej (Janusz Gajos, one of my Polish niece’s favorite actors) and the sycophantic Miroslaw (Kazimierz Kaczor). The older men haze Kamil with a hunting trip in the country where he’s expected to eat raw meat and accept his duty as a hunter, to cull the weak and thin the herd.

Meanwhile, suspicious but important things happen with the founders of Navar. One is offered 100,000 euros in a parking lot, which he wisely refuses. The tax-office regulators start a deep investigation, even arresting one of the founders for questioning. The charges are vague but apparently the bureaucrats are allowed to get away with this kind of behavior. The remaining businessmen try to prepare for the political attack as best they can, and start leaking some information about the investigation to a television reporter.

Whether the film is good at balance and deception, or because of my own ignorance of Polish politics, I wasn’t sure who were the good guys and who were the bad guys until well into the film. That uncertainty helped draw me in.

Production Faux Pas

There is a back story, told in embarrassing flashbacks shot with what looks like a Vaseline-smeared lens and no budget for period clothes or hair. The story ties Andrzej’s current behavior to an ugly period of anti-Semitism in Poland’s history. Because the production quality is so bad, the film probably would have been better off without the flashbacks.

One other embarrassing scene deserves mention. It’s when the bureaucrats seem to have won a major victory and they toast themselves, immediately calling to mind a great Simpsons quote: “Gentlemen… to evil!”

Luckily, the film’s intricate structure and shocking-but-true corruption make for a strong enough movie to overcome these weak spots.

True Stories

While watching The Closed Circuit my American wife and I kept wondering “where are the lawyers.” There are back-room deals and questionable interrogations in America, too, but at some point — usually pretty quickly — the lawyers get called in to keep everything above board. What The Closed Circuit shows is a thoroughly corrupt system in a European country, and only a decade ago.

I was in Poland this year and my hosts didn’t complain about widespread corruption. But when I mentioned The Closed Circuit, they knew the story and remembered it from the news. Poland was under Soviet control for a long time, and the fall of Communism has caused some growing pains. Their millennial generation grew up in a completely different world from their parents, and it’s created some interesting but painful generational rifts.

But even for Americans the situation in The Closed Circuit makes for some interesting post-movie discussion. For example, who would be more likely to embrace this film’s cautionary message: the American left who could argue the importance of tough oversight and strong regulation? Or the right who could point to a vivid illustration of Ronald Reagan’s notion that “government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem”?