A classified mess
There couldn’t be a better time than right now for Closed Circuit to capture the public’s attention.
The plot is a veritable scrapbook of recent newspaper headlines, touching on topics of government surveillance, closed-door terrorist trials, sinister spy organizations, the at-all-costs protection of state secrets and institutionalized corruption. If only Closed Circuit screenwriter Steven Knight had predicted the Miley Cyrus performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, he would have painted a perfect picture of the zeitgeist.
Beyond the topical trappings, though, this is a tired and unimaginative post-9/11 “legal thriller” in the John Grisham mold. Closed Circuit opens and closes on a mosaic of black-and-white security-camera images, but in between the film’s themes of omnipresent surveillance exist only hoary plot devices. Even Big Brother would turn the channel on this one.
The movie begins with a terrorist attack carried out in a busy open-air market in downtown London. Fast-forward nearly one year, and the only living suspect is about to be brought to trial. It’s an extremely high-profile case, and due to concerns over classified information, the British government has mandated that it be tried in parallel public and private trials.
After the suicide of the public-trial defender, Eric Bana’s roguish screwup Martin Rose is assigned to the position, while Rebecca Hall’s straight-laced Claudia Simmons-Howe acts as the defense in the private trial. Classified government secrets will be disclosed in the private phase of the trial, so Martin and Claudia are forced to swear to a number of things, including their lack of familiarity with each other.
The only problem: Martin and Claudia are former lovers, and their affair was the catalyst for his recent divorce. They elect to withhold this information, but it morally and legally compromises them from the beginning. As they dig deeper into the case, it becomes clear that the Secret Service is also hiding something, a secret that may have gotten the previous public defender killed.
Director John Crowley (Intermission, Boy A) is outside his comfort zone here, and with nothing else to offer, he depends heavily on familiar genre tropes. Crowley stacks up the contrivances and inconsistencies as though this were a pancake breakfast—much of the mystery here is solved by having people accidentally run into each other.
More damaging than Crowley’s perfunctory approach to the material is the fact that Bana and Hall lack the credibility to play trial lawyers, much less ones assigned to a case this significant. Even worse, they lack chemistry, which is perhaps not surprising, given that they’re both such inwardly focused actors.
Bana monotonously growls every line as though he’s speaking a foreign language phonetically and appears determined not to connect with any of his co-stars. As for Hall, she may have her supporters from films such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Town, but her acting always strikes me as immature and literal.
Without competent leads, Closed Circuit relies on its supporting cast to supply the gravitas. There’s no doubt that the pulse picks up whenever the always reliable Ciaraacute;n Hinds shows up as Martin’s squirmy partner. The same goes for Four Lions star Riz Ahmed as a quietly menacing government agent assigned to Claudia.
Best of all is Jim Broadbent, emitting groomed sleaze as the attorney general, whose buttoned-down British politeness conceals a passive-aggressive evil. His performance alone was almost enough for me to give Closed Circuit a pass, but after a decent third act, the film goes five or 10 minutes too far in its pursuit of a tidy ending.
Ironically, that ending’s freshly stitched “tidiness”—a major plot twist gets awkwardly dubbed over the closing shot—is most likely the result of unsuccessful test screenings and studio interference. That says more about industry backroom deal-making and faceless corporate manipulation than Closed Circuit manages to pack into 96 minutes of self-serious huffing and puffing.