These unsettling times have made the subject of terrorism an absolutely arresting foundation for drama. Whether it’s foreign or domestic, the despicable acts we have witnessed over the last 20 years alone have sewn deeply personal ties to victims and their families, even when we witness fictitious events onscreen. How could this happen? Who is behind this? Why are they vested in forever altering the lives of so many people? Closed Circuit uses these questions to keep the viewer interested in an otherwise extremely average, convoluted film that comes nowhere close to paying off the captivating premise.
Bear with me… much exposition is required to set the stage. After a truck bomb explodes in a crowded London market killing 120 innocent people, Scotland Yard invades a storage locker rented by the two deceased suicide bombers and implicates the locker owner as the mastermind behind the attack. He is taken into custody, arraigned, and because this is the largest attack in London’s history, he will be tried in open court. Before that can occur, the top-secret evidence compiled against the defendant by MI5, the British Intelligence Agency, must be evaluated in a closed hearing to determine whether it can be declassified to the public. A special advocate is assigned to represent the defendant during this session, and once the court has adjourned on the evidence, the public trial begins and a barrister (lawyer) then represents the defendant.
The barrister and special advocate must never communicate or have a relationship of any kind in order to preserve the sanctity of the judicial system. Unfortunately for Martin Rose (Eric Bana), the newly-designated barrister who is assigned after his predecessor commits suicide, the special advocate in this case is Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), a woman he had an affair with and someone he is consistently reminded of as he navigates an ugly divorce. This case could make both of their careers, so neither party resigns despite the explicit rules set forth by the judge. While Claudia combs through the secret evidence in private, Martin is pursued by an American journalist (Julia Stiles), who plants just enough doubt in Martin’s mind about the motivations of the trial that he begins to question why the previous barrister committed suicide. As Martin pulls on this thread, he begins to unravel the whole story behind the attacks and realizes that he and his former lover are in serious danger themselves. The pair go on the run against the mysterious, omnipotent forces against them to find the truth and save their own lives in the process.
As one can imagine from the synopsis above, Closed Circuit spends most of its time explaining the rules and players to its audience. This is ultimately detrimental to the entire story, as the viewer feels two steps behind its protagonists at all times. And in crime thrillers such as this, it’s cheap and clumsy storytelling to withhold pieces to the puzzle while expecting the viewer to put it all together. By the time we get to the big twist of who is behind this and why, we’re so exhausted with trying to figure out what is going on that the post-reveal feels tedious and unsatisfying. The film is loosely held together by serviceable performances from Bana, Hall, and the supporting cast, as well as a brisk pace to the finish line following the long set-up. The movie is watchable out of sheer curiosity as to how it all ends, but by no means is Closed Circuit a reason to rush to the theater. It’s a rental at best.