‘Civic Duty’ sneaks a peek at paranoia

Jeff Renfroe’s “Civic Duty” is a lesson in the art of claustrophobic filmmaking. With the lion’s share of the movie taking place in confined spaces, specifically a small area next to a window, an effect is created of the walls closing in on the viewer.

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By Tyler Davidson

Peter Krause plays Terry Allen in “Civic Duty.” (Courtesy of Freestyle Releasing)

By Tyler Davidson

Jeff Renfroe’s “Civic Duty” is a lesson in the art of claustrophobic filmmaking.

With the lion’s share of the movie taking place in confined spaces, specifically a small area next to a window, an effect is created of the walls closing in on the viewer. Psychological walls proceed to do the same to the mind of the main character as he descends into paranoia.

“Civic Duty” takes a look at the life of Terry Allen (Peter Krause), an accountant who has just been laid off, much to the dismay of his wife Marla (Kari Matchett.)

After a few days, Terry starts to focus his attention on his new neighbor, Gabe Hassan, a young Middle-Eastern man (Khaled Abol Naga) with only a handful of personal belongings.

The more Terry watches Gabe, the more suspicious he gets that some sort of an attack may be in the process of being planned. Taking out the trash at 3 a.m., stealing ATM deposit envelopes from banks, using pay phones when his cell phone is readily available; according to Terry, these are actions hardly befitting of a student working at a copy center, as Gabe claims to be.

As the film progresses, suspicion makes the natural transition into full-blown paranoia, played perfectly by Krause. Paranoia can be such an easy emotion to overdo, crossing into the realm of the cartoony, yet Krause retains a sense of rationale and self-assurance that is real and intense.

The all-star of the picture, however, is Richard Schiff (“The West Wing”) as FBI Agent Hilary, begrudgingly dragged into Terry’s one-man investigation.

He is cooperative at first, taking the concerns seriously as they should be taken.

However, as it becomes more and more evident that liberties are being taken and invasions are being made on Terry’s behalf, Hilary becomes furious, putting Allen in his place and telling him to settle down (in so many words) on more than one occasion.

Making his American debut, Abol Naga plays the character of Gabe Hassan with a refreshing sympathy, given the subject matter of the picture.

Gabe’s innocent, and later frightened demeanor is a dynamic foil to what eventually becomes Terry’s patriotic rage.

“Civic Duty” only takes place at a select few locales, the most common of which is Terry’s living room, where he starts to almost camp out in lieu of sleeping.

When he isn’t peeking out the window at Hassan, he is forcing himself awake on the couch, watching as much news as humanly possible, a fact that only fuels his radical patriotism as well as his suspicion of Hassan being a terrorist.

Being his sophomore effort, “Civic Duty” may prove to put Renfroe on the map.

He intelligently declines to take a concrete stance on the subject matter, being careful not to climb onto a soapbox and instead letting the film be a springboard for discussion amongst viewers.

Renfroe utilizes outstanding performances by Krause, Schiff and Abol Naga to craft a clever and highly intense picture dealing not with the threat of terrorism, but with the threat of radical Americanism-a threat that is just as real and just as frightening.

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