Directed by: John Crowley (Is Anybody There?)
Starring: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciarán Hinds, Riz Ahmed, Jim Broadbent, Julia Stiles
A first-rate legal thriller from director John Crowley and screenwriter Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), Closed Circuit is also a film I fear will get lost at the box office, owing to the lack of a big-draw star and very little promotion from the distributor. That it’s opening on a pretty slack week for appealing choices may help. But if you like your thrillers grounded in political conspiracies — and especially if you like them with a British accent — this should be at the top of your list. What it lacks in star power — let’s face it, Eric Bana has never quite crossed into movie-star status — it makes up for in truly solid casting with Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent and Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist). Crowley’s direction is a lot slicker than it was on Is Anybody There? (2009), and Knight’s screenplay is filled with those little details that enhance a thriller.
The story concerns the trial of a man (Denis Moschitto) charged with the terrorist crime of killing 120 people with a bomb in London’s Borough Market. The trial involves evidence claimed to be so sensitive in nature that the defendant himself is not allowed to know what it is. For that matter, the case requires two defense lawyers — one to defend him in open court, the other to handle the “closed sessions.” And, of course, the lawyers themselves aren’t allowed to share information — something that’s made more complicated in this particular situation because the open-court representative, Martin Rose (Bana), and closed-session one, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), are former lovers. That Claudia and Martin withhold this information from their superiors is sketchy, but as things develop, it may just be the reason they were chosen. Their former relationship compromises them and affords certain powers a degree of leverage should it be needed. (Of course, it will be.) That the pair are not exactly on cordial terms is a separate issue that adds some shading to the proceedings.
Given the genre, very little about the case is what it seems. Something is clearly amiss — starting with the distinct possibility (first suggested by Julia Stiles, playing an American journalist) that the original defense lawyer Martin replaced didn’t commit suicide but was murdered. The more that’s uncovered, the more it becomes apparent that everything is being stage-managed by higher-ups, notably the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent concealing steely determination behind his avuncular façade). Without realizing it, Martin and Claudia have entered a world in which no one is what he or she seems, and they’re playing a game that can only be won by those who control the rules. The title refers to London’s pervasive use of closed-circuit cameras, who controls them, what they record and, perhaps more chillingly, what they can be made not to record. It’s intelligent, compelling drama of a kind we don’t get very often. Seek it out. Rated R for language and brief violence.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas