The British legal thriller Closed Circuit should be one of this summer’s little gems especially with its dream cast and crew, but it misses the mark. It lacks enthusiasm, is rather ho-hum, and comes up short on imagination. Sure, there are some elements of suspense, drama, and intrigue, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Two lawyers, one male and one female, who have a shared past, take on a high profile case and, you guessed it, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Perhaps they should have called it Déjà Vu. The whole illogical concept has been done again and again. This film wasn’t merely ill-conceived. It was cloned in a lab.
After a deadly suicide bombing that kills 120 people in West London, police apprehend their prime suspect, Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto). Six months later with reassurance from the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent) for “a transparent and fair” trial, Bana’s solicitor Martin Rose is catapulted into the case after the previous crown attorney mysteriously commits suicide. Claudia Simmions-Howe (Hall), a defense lawyer with whom Martin once had an affair, is appointed to the case resulting in a coupling that could jeopardize not only the proceedings, but both careers. Despite uncovering a possible conspiracy threatening their own lives, the lawyers proceed with their high profile case.
Despite the presence of Steven Knight (whose previous screenplays Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises are tightly wound, European thrillers full of bite), Closed Circuit plays out more like a first timer’s work inspired by John Grishham novels and Alan J. Pakula movies. Why exactly would two successful lawyers of sound mind not excuse themselves from the case while under oath, given their very personal conflict of interest? The plot itself is standard television fair with dialogue and writing worthy of Law & Order or any number of small screen, procedural dramas. Knight’s script walks through the tireless paces of both lawyers working incessantly on the case, interviewing witnesses, staying at the office late into the night. But from the moment Rose receives a tip from a New York Times’ writer (Julia Stiles), the second act morphs into a thriller involving British intelligence. At this point the script morphs into a needlessly convoluted cloak and dagger drama complete with the requisite scene where one character spells out to the other that they are being closely watched. From this point forward, the film is saturated with laughable twists and turns.
Paranoia in the 21st century appears a current and popular theme in films this year, but it’s not a new subject by any means. Like how Big Brother sees all, here closed circuit cameras sub in, documenting the protagonists’ whereabouts throughout the city. This technology only adds to the ever-growing requirements for a paranoid thriller checklist. Where would we be without disposable cellphones, classified documents, clandestine meetings in parks, conspiracy theories, undercover operatives poorly stalking innocents, mysterious deaths, and of course my favourite, double crossings? None of these scenes are original or manipulated in a fresh, exciting way. As for the terrorist bombing, it reveals itself as just a MacGuffin to examine the government and other agencies’ unflinching eagerness to cover up the truth no matter what the cost.
The characters are thinly written, and the solid cast has very little to work with to develop noteworthy performances. It’s a shame that a great actor like Eric Bana could unnoticeably be swapped for any other middle-aged, male actor given his once better track record. Hall also deserves better, seemingly resigned now to these thankless second banana roles she’s been getting lately. Although the two leads are compatable, they just don’t quite pull off the passionate ex-lover scenario. The one compelling character trait is Hall’s attention or obsession to detail, recognizing something out of place in her flat. In a small but terrific role, Jim Broadbent plays the British equivalent of Alec Baldwin’s Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross, dishing out the harsh realities of the judicial system. Adding him to any movie only improves the overall quality, but the part is sadly small. Ciaran Hinds, Anne-Marie Duff, Riz Ahmed, and the aforementioned Stiles round out the cast in various roles, but they’re all unmemorable.
It’s also disappointing to see the film was directed by someone as talented as John Crowley (who’s masterful and little seen Boy A with Andrew Garfield is worth seeking out this week over this). There’s only one scene in Closed Circuit that does work. It uses multiple views from security cameras in and around the market just prior to the attack. It adds to the reality, feeling like actual raw video footage. Then Crowley runs it into the ground by overusing the technique. The aesthetic becomes nothing more than bothersome by closing credits. Adriano Goldman’s lighting and imagery shamefully saturates the screen with the same overused green and grey found in most BBC crime series while Joby Talbot’s lacklustre score plods along, very seriously.
When the summer comes to a close audiences find themselves exposed to mostly leftovers. Studios are trying to market their more difficult titles that perhaps should simply be buried. This film is definitely one of those. With Paranoia premiering only last week, this dreadful film, very similar in tone, needs to disappear. Closed Circuit may have its agenda buried somewhere deep beneath all this muddle, but it never hits its desired target. Skip it unless lawyers sporting funny wigs and cloaks in a mediocre suspense thriller tickles your fancy.
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