Conspiracy theory thrillers are almost a genre unto themselves, and the best ones all share a few things in common. The everyday folk caught up in the web should be somewhat relatable, the details of the cover-up should be shocking but believable, and there should be a surprise or two along the way.
Closed Circuit barely gets one of those three elements right, but unfortunately it’s the least thrilling of the bunch.
A bomb goes off in downtown London killing 120 people, and the evidence leads back to one surviving suspect. He’s quickly arrested by police and identified in the press, and several months later he’s ready for trial. Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is assigned to defend him in court, while another barrister is set to represent him in a secret court where evidence not for public consumption will be discussed, argued over and kept from Rose and the client. But tragedy leads to a change up and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) is brought in to handle business in the covert court. Rose and Simmons-Howe had an affair once, and in addition to having wrecked his marriage it also complicates their current assignment. They lie about it but soon discover that their secret is a small fish compared to the leviathan details of the case.
The two dig into their client’s case, and while they’re forbidden by court rules from communicating with each other their past makes it a foregone conclusion. (Also, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if the two leads never spoke or shared smoldering looks with each other.) Separately they discover evidence very damaging to the British government, and you can probably assume the generalities that follow.
Thanks to Steven Knight‘s wobbly script though the story’s specifics are also pretty clear throughout as well. Worse, audience members will consistently find themselves ahead of the leads in reaching conclusions, and that’s even taking into account the cheat afforded to Rose and Simmons-Howe in the form of lazy writing used to leap plot gaps in a single spoken assumption. The revelations lack any degree of punch or power as they’re both imbalanced and underwhelming. On the plus side though the glimpse into the workings of the secret court are fascinating, however briefly, and answer questions most of us may have had as to their necessity.
John Crowley directs with a competent hand, but the handful of scenes intended to thrill are ultimately let down by the film’s lack of energy and the audience’s lack of concern. The best scene in fact is the one that opens the movie (and gives the film its title). A busy outdoor market is seen through an ever-growing mosaic of cctv screens, and as snippets of conversations seep through the white noise a large van backs into an off-limit and crowded area. There’s a real feeling of building dread before the inevitable occurs, but even as devastating secrets are revealed later that visceral effect is never revisited.
If nothing else this dull slab of a film has a fairly interesting and entertaining cast to bolster the boredom. Bana plays a character far less heroic and capable than usual, and while he’s still an engaging actor he’s clearly more comfortable in roles that offer a physical presence. Hall meanwhile shows once again why she’s eternally deserving of more lead roles (provided they’re not opposite Bruce Willis). She finds Simmons-Howe’s emotional triggers and core strength and elevates the role above the material.
Also good is the supporting cast including Ciarán Hinds, Riz Ahmed and Jim Broadbent. Ahmed shares some particularly electric scenes with Hall, and the two threaten her chemistry with Bana each and every time. Julia Stiles also makes a brief and wholly unnecessary appearance.
Closed Circuit isn’t necessarily a bad movie, but while it’s well-acted and competently shot it’s also never all that interesting. Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor showed us why we shouldn’t trust the government’s secrecy departments nearly forty years ago, and it still feels fresher and more relevant than this film.
The Upside: Rebecca Hall and Eric Bana deserve more leading roles; interesting glimpse behind the curtain of secret courts; offers some very slight thrills
The Downside: Dull and expected; ending is weak and a bit abrupt
On the Side: Director John Crowley’s Boy A is one of the best films of 2007.