In the opening moments of Closed Circuit, a new thriller from screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), a van enters a crowded market area in downtown London. The street vendors shout at the driver for parking in a restricted area. As tempers begin to flare, the van explodes, killing 120 bystanders. Within hours, law enforcement receives an anonymous tip, and Farroukh Erdogan is dragged from his home and charged with being the mastermind behind the bombing. If that seems just a little too convenient, then you’re on the right track, and the remaining ninety minutes of Closed Circuit will peel away the layers of the conspiracy behind the alleged random act of violence.
Under the British judicial system, Erdogan is appointed a pair of barristers to defend him. The first attorney, Martin Rose (Eric Bana), will represent the suspected terrorist in open court while the second attorney, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), will be given the opportunity to review the classified intelligence evidence against Erdogan in closed court sessions. The two barristers are not allowed to communicate with one another to prevent the leaking of evidence that is vital to national security. Rose will only see the classified intelligence materials that are cleared by the judge in the closed court sessions. But there is one minor wrinkle: the two attorneys were once involved in an extramarital affair that tore Rose’s family apart, so their reasons to see one another might not be solely professional.
And so begin two parallel investigations into the tragic bombing. Rose pursues eyewitnesses and digs into his client’s personal life. At the same time, Simmons-Howe reviews boxes of classified documents and learns that there may be more to the incident than anyone ever suspected. I will remain silent on the remaining plot details to avoid ruining the twists and turns that follow.
Ultimately, Closed Circuit proves to be a solid thriller. However, it is far more engaging on an intellectual level than on an emotional one. The audience will enjoy the complex plot and the plausible surprises along the way. The film doesn’t connect as well on an emotional level. It’s a little too buttoned-up, a bit stifled, which is the chief criticism (often unfairly) of most British films and television shows. The viewer will be interested in the outcome, but you may not be rooting for anyone in particular. The screenplay tends to value plot over character.
Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent and Ciaran Hinds give credible performances straight out of any John LeCarre thriller you have seen. They are intelligent, capable people who are put under stress, and their reactions drive the narrative. However, when I see a film like Closed Circuit, I always think that the cast could’ve drawn names from a hat, and any actor could have played any character in the film with similar results. No one gives a performance that you will remember after you hit the parking lot, although they all do what is required of them by the screenplay and they do it believably.
From the title, you would expect a current or undertone running through the film about England and its surveillance of its citizens. There is one closed circuit camera per 14 members of the British population. British Big Brother is literally always watching. Although this type of evidence does play a role in Closed Circuit, there is no subplot or subtext in the film about privacy rights and the costs of a secure state. The steady video surveillance of British citizens is simply accepted by the film as the current lay of the urban landscape.
Despite my criticisms, Closed Circuit is a better than average thriller. There are no ludicrous plot twists and ridiculous moments that serve to muddle everything you’ve been watching. If you see some of the developments coming, it’s only because the screenplay is honest about its characters and avoids having anyone act contrary to their individual motivations. Closed Circuit treats the audience like it has a brain. It doesn’t spoon feed plot points to you or provide unnecessary flashbacks to something you saw only 15 minutes ago. It doesn’t “cheat” when it comes to providing the occasional surprise. And that’s a lot more than you can say for the majority of the thrillers on the market these days.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.