“Closed Circuit” opens with rapidly multiplying CCTV camera images of a bustling urban greenmarket that eventually fill the movie screen with dozens of mundane snapshots of Londoners going about their daily routines.
Until, a flash of blinding light and all screens go blank, signaling the startling start of a keen, complex political thriller that might hit uncomfortably close to home for many moviegoers. Rife with eerie echoes of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing, 9/11, the London subway attack of 2005 and even the recent Edward Snowden affair and all its implications of government overreach, this is a drama propelled by both a ripped-from-the-headlines urgency and thoughtful consideration of our fevered obsession with security in this age of international terrorism.
In the aftermath of this fictional terrorist attack – a truck bombing that killed more than 150 innocent people – director John Crowley (“Intermission”) and writer Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises,” “Dirty Pretty Things”) lay out a complicated legal procedural that delves deeply into Britain’s idiosyncratic criminal justice system and how it imperfectly balances the right to open trial with the government’s desire to closely guard state’s secrets.
The story overlays its nuts-and-bolts legal procedural and dire anti-terrorism mechanisms with a brisk and glancing love story between two attractive principals. Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) is a lawyer appointed Special Advocate for the man accused of masterminding the attack, a heroine-addicted immigrant named Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto). As such, she has clearance to view classified evidence but cannot disclose it in open court.
Her cohort on the defense is hunky solicitor Martin Rose (Eric Bana), who can argue Erdogan’s case in court but cannot be privy to the classified evidence that Claudia knows. To further complicate things, Martin and Claudia once had a torrid affair that broke up Martin’s marriage, but against stringent court rules they keep mum on their past connection.
As Martin and Claudia begin to piece together their defense – with the oversight of an imperious Attorney General (Jim Broadbent) and the suspect assistance of wily barrister (Ciaran Hinds) – they uncover some dubious MI5 finagling and a larger, sinister conspiracy that not only threatens their case but also puts their lives in grave danger.
Crowley relates the story with brisk efficiency and trusts his audience to interpret and pick up subtle clues on the go. You don’t have to be familiar with the arcane workings of the Old Bailey to follow along (although it might not hurt to have passing knowledge of the legal culture through various BBC courtroom dramas). But if you stay onboard with the dark-tinged twists and turns of the story, it all comes clear in the end.
As per usual with a British production, the cast is top notch – with Bana proving a solidly tenacious legal bulldog, Hall giving Claudia a sharp wit and touching vulnerability, and keen support coming from Anne-Marie Duff as the ruthless MI5 bureaucrat and Julia Stiles as the savvy New York Times reporter.
Smart, challenging and provocative, “Closed Circuit” caps off a summer of silly blockbusters with a grown-up antidote and hopefully a hint of better things to come in the fall.
- Dennis King
Starring: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Julia Stiles, Ciaran Hinds
(Language and brief violence)