Closed Circuit follows the aftermath of a terrorist attack that kills dozens of Londoners in Borough Market and leaves the city, along with the government, hungry for justice. Authorities quickly apprehend Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), a family man with ties to a local terrorist cell, and prepare for one of the most highly publicized criminal trials in British history. Lawyers Martin Vickers (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) are appointed as public defense counsel and the accused’s special advocate, respectively – meaning that Vickers is set to defend Erdogan in open court, while Simmons-Howe will represent Erdogan during private session (where top secret information could be revealed).
However, when Joanna Reece (Julia Stiles), a journalist from the New York Times, suggests to Vickers that the death of his friend (and the original defense counsel for the case) was no accident, he begins to look more closely (and suspiciously) at the assembled evidence – putting his own life, along with those he cares about, at risk.
Closed Circuit was helmed by theater and film director, John Crowley – best known for his 2003 black comedy Intermission starring Cillian Murphy and Kelly Macdonald. Still, Closed Circuit is a far cry from Crowley’s humor-filled crime movie and, instead, plays its story of terrorism and conspiracy very straight. Understandable, given the subject matter – which is grounded by solid performances, smart directing, and an intriguing (not to mention timely) core premise. Despite these strengths, Closed Circuit is still pretty clumsy in overall execution. While the moment to moment drama and unfolding mystery are both intriguing, numerous plot holes and underdeveloped story threads diminish the impact of the larger story.
The core setup, about the relationship between Erdogan’s public and private defense attorneys, paired with timely social commentary on government and surveillance, offer plenty of gripping plot points. The film’s mystery unravels at a steady pace with intriguing build-up that does not rely on superfluous twists or overextending the film’s primary narrative. Yet, a number of threads are not fully developed – as characters disappear from the film without worthwhile payoff, shirk away from drama and conflict, or (worst of all) make threats and never follow-through. Instead of tense meetings that drive the plot forward, Closed Circuit depends on sinister glances and threatening exposition – which rarely escalate into tangible danger. It’s a heady drama and opportune cautionary tale but viewers who take the time to examine the film’s logic will likely find the scene to scene presentation is stronger than the final “message.”
Fortunately, Crowley has assembled a talented roster of actors and their verbal showdowns make for many of Closed Circuit‘s best scenes. Vickers is a likable, albeit flawed, protagonist and Eric Bana delivers a solid performance in the role – successfully navigating the grey area between idealistic public defender and self-preservationist. Vickers’ past indiscretions ensure he’s slightly less predictable than a standard starry-eyed defense attorney but that doesn’t mean Closed Circuit presents many fresh surprises along the way – as the character follows a pretty common overarching trajectory (and a flat love affair).
The same goes for Rebecca Hall’s “Special Advocate” Claudia Simmons-Howe. In spite of a solid turn by Hall, Simmons-Howe is criminally underutilized in the movie – especially given the amount of time that Closed Circuit dedicates to explaining the dos and don’ts of her legal position (as well as her relationship to Vickers). In the end, Hall trades fun barbs with other performers onscreen but the actual contributions of Simmons-Howe fall victim to the machinations of Closed Circuit‘s writer and director – who prioritize attempted profundity over fully realized character arcs.
The film also showcases a number of familiar faces, including Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas), Ciarán Hinds (Game of Thrones), and Julia Stiles (The Bourne Ultimatum), as well as some not-so-familiar faces, Denis Moschitto, Hasancan Cifci, and Anne-Marie Duff. Most supporting players are a credit to the film, as soundboards in some of the more memorable encounters. Though, by the end, they’re nothing more than fodder, used for whatever purpose the movie requires in their respective scenes, without fleshed out backstories or anything but one-note development.
Crowley was smart in choosing a grim and no-nonsense tone for his latest film – resulting in sharp onscreen compositions. Cinematography in Closed Circuit is captivating – with interesting juxtapositions between delicately shot character moments and rugged surveillance footage that inject a steady dose of unease into the audience (and characters). Nevertheless, despite the film’s Closed Circuit title and grainy spy footage, the plot isn’t about illicit government observation or the privacy vs. safety debate. For that reason, Crowley’s onscreen focus is muddled between Big Brother window dressing and the actual conspiracy theory storyline – since the two do not combine into a cohesive or intuitive whole.
Moviegoers looking for a moody political drama will find Closed Circuit provides some engaging character beats and interesting (albeit not exceptionally deep) thoughts on government oversight. Strong performances from Bana and Hall help elevate Crowley’s film above similarly predictable thrillers and it’s hard not to admire the director for some risky choices (in both the story and the actual filmmaking). That said, plot holes as well as underdeveloped characters undercut the power of the final film and many moviegoers who are attracted to the thought-provoking political thriller genre will, as a result, find Closed Circuit is too divided, between creativity and commentary, to be particularly exciting or insightful.
If you’re still on the fence about Closed Circuit, check out the trailer below:
Closed Circuit runs 96 minutes and is Rated R for language and brief violence. Now playing in theaters.
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