“Closed Circuit” comes from the same producers as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Additional similarities come to mind: both are British thrillers and feature Ciarán Hinds (Rome, Political Animals) in a trench coat. I’m afraid viewers wouldn’t be able to find much more than that, so the tagline on the movie poster lacks punch. The first sequence is nicely done by director John Crowley, displaying the footage of a single closed-circuit television camera (CCTV). At first, women are chatting as they stroll through an English market. As seconds pass, scenes from 14 other CCTV cameras appear: a man on a cell phone, stall attendants trying to sell their goods, and a delivery truck being directed as it backs up. The footage becomes a confused collection of moving images and overlapping voices, culminating in an explosive terrorist attack and large puff of grey smoke.
The plot centers on this explosion and launches immediately into a montage of (what appears to be) real news footage and filmed shots. Farroukh Erdogan, the Turkish terrorist allegedly responsible for the crime, is apprehended by police and awaits a hearing in a closed session of court. The defense barrister (lawyer, in American legal speak) on the case dies of an apparent suicide, which leads to Martin Rose’s (Eric Bana) appointment as the new defense lawyer. However, Martin had an affair with the Special Advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), who is responsible for reviewing the secret evidence in the case. Faced with such a high-profile case, neither lawyer admits the conflict of interest to the judge, breaking a major rule of the proceedings. They go off to their separate investigations, aware that both the British government and the public are anxious for a conviction.
Unfortunately, events plod along at an agonizing crawl and rather predictably from there. Was the death of Martin’s predecessor really a suicide? Will Martin and Claudia be hindered in their objectivity by their old affair? Are agents of the government trying to pull strings to obtain a conviction of Erdogan? Is true justice really the intent of the government or is there a conspiracy at work? In short, “Closed Circuit” merely follows the traditional line of “suspenseful” thrillers but also fails to add development on many points, leaving the viewer feeling a bit disconnected.
Another problem concerns the significance of the title. One obvious tie is the use of the security camera footage. Indeed, Crowley periodically cuts from a close shot in Hollywood style (for lack of a better term) to a longer shot in CCTV style as an indicator that Martin and Claudia are being watched. Additionally, it serves to visually illustrate their isolation both physically and thematically (trust no one). We, the viewer, are momentarily pulled into carrying out government surveillance in the process. It seems difficult to avoid the somewhat disturbing associations, when one recalls the prevalence of National Security Agency (NSA) and Edward Snowden in the headlines. The connection may come to your mind even faster if your theater also played the trailer for the upcoming WikiLeaks film, “The Fifth Estate”.
However, CCTV concerns collide with another major issue: the threat of a government conspiracy to cover up the truth on an incident which claimed 120 innocent lives. One might expect the two concepts to converge at some point, but they never do in a satisfying way; rather, they compete for your attention throughout the film. Which idea really holds more significance? Neither one becomes fully explored, resulting in an (admittedly) impressive display of cinematic techniques, peppered with largely forgettable characters.
With regards to any redeeming aspects of “Closed Circuit”, it was a smart move to cast Jim Broadbent and Ciarán Hinds in the supporting roles. Broadbent, as the Attorney General, effortlessly unsettles the viewer as Martin’s creepy but smiling boss in their confrontations. It’s a pity that Hinds is underused as Devlin, Martin’s friend and adviser. He dominates his scenes even if he doesn’t have many lines to deliver. As Devlin, Hinds brings some welcome comic relief when he asks Martin about a soccer game during an intense day of court. Better yet is his quip about bugged rooms and government surveillance when he says, “Speak clearly for the sake of the typist”.
Regrettably, “Closed Circuit” fails to carry the momentum that it generates in the opening segment of CCTV panels. It never moves beyond the cloud of smoke, rendering it as a tired and painfully slow film. Your time would be better spent at a more enjoyable and thrilling Focus Features project, “The World’s End”.