Closed Circuit is a neat and clever, though not nearly as clever as you might have hoped for, political thriller. It makes one troublesome mistake – it fails to give its viewers credit for having some intelligence. By that I mean, that so much of the film’s twists and turns can be seen coming from miles away. The dispensation of clues is handled as if we needed to be hit over the head with a fact in order for it to sink in.
We actually suss things out well before the lawyers do.
That said, the story is about a pair of London based lawyers handling the defense of a Turkish man who has been accused of a terrorist act, the blowing up of a truck in a crowded London market area resulting in 120 deaths. This Trial of the Century, as it was called by the London papers, seems ripped right from the pages of today’s news, or from your TV screen. Actually London has about a half-million surveillance cameras all over the city. These don’t use public airwaves, Instead they are all closed circuit, which is the title of the film, and the basis of the film’s tagline – they see your every move.
These lawyers are Eric Bana playing Martin Rose, the barrister or counsel for the Defense, and Rebecca Hall as Claudia Simmons-Hall, as the Special Advocate. What does that mean exactly? The Defense Attorney is as it seems, an attorney for the Defense. He will make his arguments in Open Court. The Special Advocate is something else entirely. She will be shown evidence that is not available to either the defendant or the defense attorney.
This is material ‘protected’ under the laws concerning National Security. It will be the job of the Special Advocate to argue, in a closed session of court, that the defense get to see this ‘evidence’. The are strong strictures in place for this protected evidence. Simmons-Howe can neither show this to the defense team, discuss it with the defense team, or even meet with the defense team.
Of course – it just isn’t that easy, especially since, these two have a romantic history.
Nevertheless, they proceed.
Simmons-Howe has an office, but a safe has been installed, which actually meant that her office was broken into. And they guy who likely did it, is already inside as she arrives.To set things in motion, the original defense attorney, somehow commits suicide. Bana’s Rose replaces him. We learn that the original solicitor ( he is not the same as defense attorney), Devlin, played by Ciaran Hinds (below),
is well acquainted with Rose. We’ll meet the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent), an MI5 Operative (Riz Ahmed), and a New York Times London Bureau reporter played by Julia Stiles, who we all remember from the Bourne films. There’s also a dinner party, quite early on, where almost all of the important players are present. Only as the film progresses, that party seems all too contrived.
What does the film do well? – The sense of paranoia and stress abounds. Of course we know they are being watched well before they do. Bana and Hall perform well enough, but the best actor in the film is Jim Broadbent as the AG. He is sort of a ‘Yoda-like’ character,
only with precise English while he states things that always mean something other than what he is actually saying. You will enjoy his role.
You will also become a bit paranoid too, as every one that passes in the street might be a bad guy. I realize that this is somewhat manufactured, but still, you do feel unsure. The color palette is intelligently and softly muted; meaning this is not a beautiful film with sunsets, and mountain ranges, and long walks along the Esplanade.
What the film doesn’t do well – I didn’t see much in the way of chemistry between Hall and Bana. I also thought the MI5 agent, played by Riz Ahmed, was a casting mistake. Stiles was underused, and beyond that – the whole basis of the film was undermined early on by the fact that these lawyers had to lie to get accepted on the case. Okay fine – but once they began, stress on began, to see between the lines, they could have simply been tossed off the case, and disbarred, rather than placed in peril.
I think the fact that this film opened just prior to the Labor Day Holiday weekend is quite telling. A better film would have opened in late October or early November. An awards contender may have opened in December.
It’s topical, it entertains, it has some suspense, but it isn’t truly thrilling. Directed by Jim Crowley. Still, it is worth seeing. I’ll rate it at three-point seven five. A trailer is below.