What’s more overdone right now—teen supernatural romances or terrorism-themed suspenses? There’s such an obsession with terrorism and Big Brother-like surveillance in our culture. It doesn’t help that our daily news is filled with stories about terrorist attacks around the world and new ways our governments are spying on us (in case you weren’t paranoid enough). So why do we invite reality into a domain where we go to escape reality. People like the suspense genre, sure, but how many actually like the government conspiracy theory plots?
Clearly, not enough for a movie like Closed Circuit to do well at the box office. Yet it seems like it’s always just enough that production companies can justify making these movies, even though there are several others that are practically identical. Seriously, I want you to think about this. Why is it that we complain about the news, but then we watch movies that use the very same fear-mongering we’re trying to escape as a plot? Chew on that one while we talk about Closed Circuit.
The movie opens with a unique sequence. Instead of having multiple cameras cutting back and forth, director John Crowley employs multiple security camera views, all filming a single location at different angles during what’s only three or so minutes. In other words, if someone walks down the street, you’ll see them appear in more than one of the views. It’s a useful effect because it immediately sets the tone for the “government surveillance” theme I mentioned earlier. Now, this scene shows a suicide bombing in a busy London market (called Borough Market). In the subsequent scenes, a man suspected of being the mastermind behind this terrorist attack, Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), is arrested, and his wife and teenage son are taken into protective custody.
Fast forward. Erdogan will be put on trial, and the prosecution intends to use classified evidence against him. The catch? Neither he nor his lawyers can see this evidence, which the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent) argues is unfair. That’s why Special Advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), is appointed to the case. As Special Advocate, she has clearance to review the classified evidence and determine whether or not it should be disclosed; however, once she’s seen it, she cannot communicate with Erdogan or his team.
Right before Simmons-Howe is given the evidence, Erdogan’s lawyer dies unexpectedly (which, of course, in these movies means he was murdered), and new defense barrister, Martin Rose (Eric Bana), has to take over. Did I mention Rose and Simmons-Howe had an affair that ended his marriage? Oh, yeah. That’s important because the two aren’t supposed to work together if they’ve had a previous relationship (but they do); and they also can’t have any contact after Simmons-Howe has seen the evidence (but they do). As things from Erdogan’s case start to unravel, both Rose and Simmons-Howe are endangered and learn that everyone around them is part of the conspiracy.
Here come the main plot spoilers. It turns out Erdogan is actually an MI5 agent working for the British government. He was supposed to infiltrate the terrorist cell and betray them before the suicide bombing, but it went wrong. Rather than admitting that Erdogan was an agent and that MI5 screwed up, MI5 had him arrested and put on trial. And the whole “classified evidence” thing was just MI5 trying to cover their asses so that the British public wouldn’t learn about their big mess at taxpayer expense. So yeah. That’s actually pretty interesting.
The speed and the tension of the plot’s rising action is impressive. A little predictable, but impressive nonetheless. Both lawyers are spied on, followed, and eventually attacked. New York Times London correspondent Joanna Reece (Julia Stiles), who offers Rose some helpful hints along the way, dies mysteriously (a.k.a. she opened her mouth, so she got murdered). Even defense team member Devlin (Ciaran Hinds) and the Attorney General are in on it. All of these things play into the paranoia and government conspiracy well. But rather than give the intrigue in this movie the full spotlight and let its action play out before our eyes (which would have been much more interesting), the characters monologue and over-explain what’s happening.
Remember show vs. tell? Yeah, they pretty much tell us the movie’s plot the entire time. For example, we don’t actually see Rose piece together the fact that Erdogan is an MI5 agent. We just see him write a note to Erdogan that says “I believe you are an MI5 agent” and then explain to Devlin later that he thought it was weird that Erdogan got passports so quickly. As an audience member, it seemed like Rose pulled this idea out of his ass (which is another way of saying the screenwriter got lazy). Rather than “telling,” we should’ve seen Rose skimming over case files, noticing oddities, and then fitting together the passport thought with the “Why is the evidence classified?” thought into the M15 agent conclusion. And it’s not just Rose who does this. Every time the Attorney General appears in a scene, we get a speech about government, fair trials, and asking the wrong questions. It’s like the screenwriter thought we were all too dumb to figure out the mystery that, as I said, was already predictable.
Worse, the ending is about as blah as they come. We’ve got this great, intense chase up to the final trial, and then Erdogan is killed before they can actually try him, so Rose and Simmons-Howe are just shit out of luck. Yes, this is the goddamn ending. Not pulling a fast one on the government and exposing this major cover-up. Not allowing Erdogan to be tried, convicted, and forgiven (because he’s an agent, and that’s what would’ve happened). Not even killing one or both of the lawyers. We just got a big ole’ ending of nothing.
Oh, and while Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall deliver pretty good performances in their fast-talking lawyer speeches, they have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever, which I guess was okay in the end because they didn’t hook up once. So bad ending and no romance. Why did I even watch this movie?
Overall, Closed Circuit has a thrilling concept of intra-system terrorism that pushes us through the majority of the movie, but it flounders in its delivery and in its ending. For one, rather than showing us the intrigue of the government conspiracy and surveillance, we get long-winded speeches and characters who practically walk us through what’s happening like it’s an episode of Dora the Explorer (because, apparently, you’re too stupid). Another problem is that its ending feels unresolved and uncoordinated, which is such a disservice to a movie that’s all about how every little piece of the puzzle fits together. And while we get good performances from Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, who play the lead lawyers, their chemistry is flat and uninspiring.