Closed Circuit Directed by: John Crowley Cast: Rebecca Hall, Eric Bana, Jim Broadbent, Julia Stiles Running Time: 1 hrs 36 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 28, 2013
PLOT: Ex-lovers Claudia (Hall) and Martin (Bana) are hired to defend a terrorist suspect in the biggest trial in English history. Claudia is designated to the role Special Advocate, in which she must not interact with anyone on her team when handling highly confidential court files that could ruin ongoing terrorist investigations.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of thrillers who like to find their sense of urgency in a story's plot, and also its timeliness.
London. A moody territory seemingly always on the verge of rain tears; a place where the sun literally doesn't shine, with dark clouds always overpowering foolish rays of light (at least as in Skyfall, or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). But at the same time, it is a land of security cameras, not just one or two, but a bazillion-and-one of them, where every nose-pick and/or wink can be documented in numerous angles.
Similarly, London is also the land of the Special Advocate, a zany special designation that allows for hot topic terrorist suspects to face the law in closed sessions, instead of those open to the public. If the evidence against the suspect is too hot to be handled by regular law folk or revealed in public as its contents could damage ongoing investigations, one person is appointed the Special Advocate position, in which only they can see the potentially harmful information, and may not speak to anyone on their law team once they have begun viewing the secret evidence. But why can't a Special Advocate consult with those on her team while handing these "For Your Eyes Only" folders? Just because.
Closed Circuit is an old-fashioned thriller (The Parallax View comes to mind) that banks its key political statement on a risky plot contrivance, while the hot-hot-hot information itself is essentially the MacGuffin - like the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, Rosebud in Citizen Kane, etc. In these ways, this movie is a bit extremely ridiculous, if not a (second) aggressive letter to the editor from Eastern Promises scribe Steven Knight, who is very disturbed by the invasive nature of security cameras (closed circuit footage also appears in his directorial debut Hummingbird with Jason Statham). With everything in this story functioning more like triggers for a plot than actual plot details themselves, Closed Circuit shouldn't really work.
And yet with its blanketing of palpable paranoia to its turning course of events, Closed Circuit does. Its nervousness creeps in nicely; genuine surprises about the film's central case keep this movie at a good speed in the face of its emphasis on dialogue and secret meetings. As everything gets weirder and weirder, the uncertainty of who to trust, and specifically who to trust with the safety of our protagonists, reaches a fine point where pessimism clashes with all encompassing power. The film's ending might topple a good amount of what's been set up, but at least Closed Circuit makes one anxious to arrive there. (Personal note, I saw this film at 10 a.m. with a very minimal amount of sleep, and this movie never lost me).
With its tangled pitch for your attention, Closed Circuit is in need of clearing a few things up, sometimes twice over. To achieve this the film uses obvious exposition dialogue, one of the blunter tools in a screenwriter's collection, but nonetheless one that earns an excuse for its necessity with this yarn. Without having characters explain the rules to each other out loud, (even though we would assume they would know them already) Closed Circuit wouldn't be able to achieve the relaxed amount of brain power that it ultimately does earn. But once you get it, you get it. Thankfully, screenwriter Knight doesn't abuse this device, leaving it alone once Closed Circuit hits its top speed.
Playing opposite each other in a fine bit of casting for a mature movie such as this, Bana and Hall are better separate more notably than they are together. The conflict's entire point of the job-jeopardizing boot-knocking that they once shared isn't given a scandalous nature with their visible chemistry. We'd believe that maybe they mashed faces in an empty copy room once, but a significant affair, one that could change both of their professional situations forever? Not so much. The danger that they're compromised doesn't linger, but thankfully the one of them becoming unexpectedly predisposed does.
While the two leads make Closed Circuit a compelling story of characters looking behind their shoulder, the film's brightest gem is Jim Broadbent. With a thorough line of amicability, he has a great sense of being passive-aggressive; such is shown center stage here. When we first meet him, he is a tongue-tied figurehead. But later, his smile turns into a sly grin, and he shares with Bana one of the summer's most intriguing conversations. In a diner, amidst the continually miserable foggy London weather, Broadbent's scene-stealin' character opens Bana's to the cruel realities of the bigger picture. It's a mini shout-out to the type of crushing pessimism expressed in Ned Beatty's incredible monologue in Network.
His script certainly driven by political outrage that can be agreed upon internationally, Knight has succeeded in crafting a shifting story that exists beyond its initial inspiration. Closed Circuit is an intriguing who's-doing-it with more than just its timeliness to keep it worthy of nervous interest.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10