There couldn't be a better time for Closed Circuit to capture the public's attention. The plot is a veritable scrapbook of recent newspaper headlines, touching on topics of government surveillance, closed-door terrorist trials, the at-all-costs protection of state secrets, and institutionalized corruption. If only screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) had predicted the Khloe-Lamar split, he would have painted a perfect picture of the zeitgeist.
Beyond the topical trappings, though, this is an unimaginative post-9/11 "legal thriller" in the John Grisham mold. The film opens and closes on a mosaic of black-and-white security-camera images, but in between the themes of omnipresent surveillance are only hoary plot devices. Even Big Brother would turn the channel on this one.
The movie begins with a terrorist attack in an open-air market in London; fast-forward nearly a year, and the only living suspect is about to face trial. It's an extremely high-profile case, and due to concerns over classified information, the British government has mandated that it be tried in parallel public and private trials.
After the suicide of the public trial defender, Eric Bana's roguish screw-up Martin Rose is assigned to the position, while Rebecca Hall's straight-laced Claudia Simmons-Howe acts as the defense in the private trial. Classified government secrets will be disclosed in the private phase of the trial, so Martin and Claudia are forced to swear to many things, including their lack of familiarity with each other.
The only problem: Martin and Claudia are former lovers, and their affair was the catalyst for his recent divorce. They elect to withhold this information, but it morally and legally compromises them from the beginning. As they dig deeper into the case, it becomes clear that the Secret Service is also hiding something, a secret that may have gotten the previous public defender killed.
Director John Crowley (Boy A) is outside his comfort zone here, and with nothing else to offer, he depends heavily on familiar genre tropes. Crowley stacks up the contrivances and inconsistencies as though it were a pancake breakfast. Much of the mystery is solved by having people accidentally run into each other.
More damaging than Crowley's perfunctory approach to the material is the fact that Hall and Bana lack the credibility to play trial lawyers. Even worse, they lack chemistry.
Without competent leads, the film relies on its supporting cast to supply the gravitas. There's no doubt the pulse picks up whenever the always reliable Ciarán Hinds shows up as Martin's squirmy partner. The same goes for Four Lions star Riz Ahmed as a quietly menacing government agent assigned to Claudia, and even for Julia Stiles in the underwritten role of an American reporter.
Best of all is Jim Broadbent, emitting groomed sleaze as the Attorney General, whose buttoned-down British politeness conceals a passive-aggressive evil. His performance alone was almost enough for me to give Closed Circuit a pass, but after a decent third act, the film goes five or 10 minutes too far in pursuit of a tidy ending.
Ironically, that ending's freshly stitched tidiness — a major plot twist gets awkwardly dubbed over the closing shot — is most likely the result of unsuccessful test screenings and studio interference. That says more about backroom deal-making and faceless corporate manipulation than Closed Circuit packs into 96 minutes of self-serious huffing and puffing.