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Civic Duty

Civic Duty

Rated R, 98 min. Directed by Jeff Renfroe. Starring Peter Krause, Khaled Abol Naga, Richard Schiff, Kari Matchett, Ian Tracey.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 4, 2007

Civic Duty stands out amid the new wave of terrorism-paranoia thrillers. It's a taut drama set primarily within the confines of two apartments in the same urban building complex and keeps the viewer guessing until the end regarding the reliability of its two central protagonists. The line separating civic duty from vigilantism is constantly shifting and challenging our allegiances to these characters. In the film, Six Feet Under's Krause plays an accountant named Terry Allen (a character whose disposition is so different from the identically named artist/musician that it's clear the filmmakers selected the name out of ignorance rather than homage). We learn in the film's opening moments that Terry has been laid off from his job, which consequently allows him more time to hang around his apartment working on his résumé and fretting about the down payment on the house that he and his understanding wife (Matchett) intend to buy. Everywhere, he is subtly bombarded by warnings emphasizing the terror threat and the need for extra scrutiny. When an Arab man (Naga) with few possessions moves in downstairs, Terry's curiosity is aroused, and he begins to follow the man and, eventually, enters his apartment to search it when the man is not home. Although Terry also calls in the FBI, he seems put off by the lack of alarm demonstrated by the agent (Schiff, of The West Wing, again wonderfully underplaying). Terry's agitation drives his wife away and we, too, come to doubt Terry's grip on reality. Yet, his discoveries also become more and more curious. Dramatically, the script by Andrew Joiner keeps the pot boiling ’til the last drop is drained. However, director Renfroe's excessively busy camerawork and green fluorescent-looking glow distract from the proceedings, as does Krause's equally frenetic performance. Once the story's events reach a climactic pitch, the film stagnates in place for too long and loses momentum. But while Civic Duty is truly ticking, there's no telling when and if it's going to detonate.
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