The big problem with being a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller like Closed Circuit is that newsprint turns yellow pretty quickly, so yesterday’s news can look like, well, yesterday’s news.
Still, the opening of this Byzantine, London-set, post-9/11 conspiracy courtroom thriller can’t help but set the neck-hairs on end. Images from multiple closed-circuit surveillance cameras capture a horrific explosion in a public market, culminating in a long shot of the smoke rising above the city’s grey skyline. It’s a potent evocation of bombings past – especially those in London in 2005 – and sets a tone of chilling urban vulnerability. Alas, the rest of the movie fails to cash in on that compelling start.
Like Thatcher-era, end-of-the-empire conspiracy dramas such as Edge of Darkness, Defence of the Realm and The Ploughman’s Lunch, John Crowley’s Closed Circuit focuses on the high-casualty intersection where journalism, jurisprudence and politics collide. But while the potential wreckage here is real, complicated and profound, the treatment in this case is almost opportunistically superficial. The title suggests a pun on both surveillance and state secrecy, yet the movie never quite articulates that duality properly.
When a dark-skinned Muslim man named Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) is seized and locked up as a suspect in the bombing, he is, under British law, represented by two attorneys: one an arrogant but accomplished public attorney named Martin Rose (Eric Bana); the other a closed court “special advocate” named Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall). The special advocate comes into play when evidence in the case is deemed too potentially dangerous to public safety to be revealed in court, and therein lies Closed Circuit’s ostensibly defining question: At what point is keeping evidence secret simply a convenient excuse for state misbehaviour?
It’s an interesting question, especially in light of recent history’s revelations concerning state spin and media manipulation, but it’s not one that Closed Circuit chooses to meaningfully address. Instead, we find that our supposedly divided defence lawyers were once romantically linked. That leaves us suspecting that we’re watching a real-world conspiracy thriller with a Hepburn and Tracy spin.
It doesn’t help that there’s no chemistry between Hall’s special advocate and Bana’s defence attorney. And sadly, the movie’s lack of a clear identity – is it a thriller, soap, legal drama or action chase movie? – makes it difficult to understand why anyone should care.