Closed Circuit is an old-fashioned slow burn British legal thriller that applies traditional storytelling techniques with modern technology and the legal maze created to deal with terrorism – and especially the laws that allow evidence deemed perilously dangerous to national security to be withheld from both the defense team and the defendant.
The film opens with an expanding collage of people shopping at an open-air farmers’ market until a delivery truck backs into the market and the unseen drivers detonate a payload of explosives, killing many and injuring many more. A tip leads to the arrest of Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) and forces a trial on two levels – closed court, where a special advocate attempts to persuade the judge that the defendant should hear the classified evidence against him, and an open trial where he is represented by a standard solicitor.
Martin Rose (Eric Bana, Hanna, Star Trek) winds up as Erdogan’s solicitor on short notice – after the suicide of his original solicitor. Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Iron Man 3) is appointed his special advocate. The two fail to recuse themselves despite having had an affair some time earlier. They are not on good terms. Bana and Hall have great chemistry and are at the top of their game.
Jim Broadbent plays the Attorney General who seeks to make Erdogan’s trial an open and shut event that will showcase the transparency and fairness of the British legal system. Ciaran Hinds (Game of Thrones, Political Animals) is Devlin, Rose’s friend, colleague and mentor/advisor. Anne-Marie Duff is Melissa, a humble civil servant in the Ministry of Transportation. Each plays a key role in one or another – and each is superb.
The problem is that Rose starts to notice things – getting the same cab (he notices the licence number) three straight times; inconsistencies in Erdogan’s background that suggest something other than simple terrorism, and such like. Simmons-Howe has to deal with a representative for the Attorney General’s office, Nazrul Sharma (Riz Ahmed, Wired, Dead Set) whom she immediately pegs as MI5 – and discovers that he has her being watched.
Slowly, deliberately, events build. A dinner party leads Rose to a meeting with a New York Times reporter, Joanna Reece (Julia Stiles, Dexter, Silver Linings Playbook), who makes him consider something that really sets him back on his heels; when Simmons-Howe interviews – or tries to interview – Erdogan’s wife (Pinar Ogun)and son (Hasancan Cifci) the son is loudly uncooperative, sort of…
As in life, there are few real explosions of violence – save for the explosion that sets off the story. Rather, it’s an accumulation of small things that build until, like the allegorical snowball that grows as it rolls down the mountainside, a point is reached when lives are at stake and Rose and Simmons-Howe are forced into further grey moral areas – this time to survive. By the film’s climax, the tension is palpable. Trying to do the right thing becomes impossibility without doing things that are at the very least ethically challenging, at worst morally unsound.
Closed Circuit is set in London – a city that has more closed circuit cameras watching its streets than almost any other city. You can’t go a block without being observed by at least a couple of them. This kind of surveillance may make it easier for law enforcement to apprehend major criminals (as in the case of the Boston Marathon bombers for example), but it also makes it easier to keep tabs on the movements of people like Rose and Simmons-Howe – resulting in possibilities for abuse by law enforcement, intelligence gathering agencies and every level of government.
Closed Circuit combines a number of plot points that show both sides of the coin here. On one hand you have the swift apprehension of a suspected terrorist; on the other you have the abuse of power to cover up something because of its potential to embarrass The Powers That Be – abuse that includes murder and attempted murder; misrepresentation of facts; withholding of evidence and more.
The film is beautifully shot in hues that call to mind grounded spy films based on novels by LeCarre – mostly cold blues and greens, but with enough brief moments with slightly warmer tones to give us a sense of the characters. The editing is precise, we are never given too much information, whether in terms of character development or plot points. Everything is parceled out at just right pace and in precisely the right amount.
Steven Knight’s (Dirty Pretty Things, Redemption) script deals with the balance between the desire to do the right thing and what the right thing actually is – from radically different points of view. Director John Crowley (Boy A, Is Anybody There?) develops the story with a similar balance – in this case, a balance between character and plot; action and reaction; the grey area between absolute right and absolute wrong; the shadings of ego and the demands of humility (and the recognition of each in the lead characters); political expediency and political necessity.
Closed Circuit is not a lightweight film. It demands an audience that pays attention; an audience willing to identify with very flawed very human characters, and willing to acknowledge that life isn’t tidy – and politics nor law are the most honorable of professions, even when intentions are good. The words taut and suspenseful might not have been invented for it, but they certainly do describe it.
Final Grade: A+