Movie review: 'Closed Circuit'
You don’t really need to know much about the British legal system to get totally involved in the stories and the accompanying tension of “Closed Circuit.” You don’t have to understand the difference between barristers and advocates (they’re both lawyers) or what it means when a judge (or whatever they’re called in England) orders a recess at a trial, then says to the barristers and advocates remaining in the courtroom, “Wigs off!”
Yet even if you did get how all of that stuff works, the busy plotting and side-plotting in this legal thriller centering on a terrorist trial would still likely generate some confusion. But it really doesn’t matter. If things are a little hard to understand while they’re being woven together and then played out, everything makes sense in the end. And that’s fine. The characters are involved in a big twisty mystery, so why shouldn’t viewers also have a bit of trouble figuring out what’s really going on?
What’s going on at the very start of “Closed Circuit” is plain and simple. Director John Crowley kicks it off in unnerving style, reminiscent of what Brian De Palma did so well in his ’70s film, with multiple images flashing up across the screen, all of them shots from surveillance cameras, all focusing on bustling London streets, all building to a massive terrorist explosion.
Six months later, a trial has begun. Our hero (or is he an anti-hero?), Martin (Eric Bana) is a successful barrister who has just been brought in to defend Farroukh (Denis Moschitto), the man implicated in the bombing that killed 120 people. It’s briefly remarked that Martin has taken over for another barrister who just committed suicide. There’s also the introduction of Claudia (Rebecca Hall), who will serve as Farroukh’s special advocate, working alongside but not actually together with Martin.
Here’s some of that Brit law business. Even though Martin and Claudia are on the same side of the case, due to the existence of some “secret evidence,” they’re not allowed to communicate with each other. But since they’re former lovers and aren’t exactly on speaking terms these days, that’s no big deal. Yet the fact that there was an affair between them, and they’re not telling anyone, is enough to make their involvement in the case just this side of illegal. All of that, and the plot hasn’t even begun to thicken. But it sure does.
This is a film about paranoia, about people wondering if they’re being watched, if they’re being followed, about national security and whether or not the government should be called the good guys or the bad guys. Martin and Claudia have plenty of murky business to deal with – seriously, how does one even start to grasp the idea of “secret evidence?” – when suddenly the Secret Service is involved (and they’re not very friendly), there’s talk of an informant who might or might not talk, and we meet Joanna (Julia Stiles), an American journalist who’s snooping around with questions about that first barrister’s supposed suicide.
Though it all starts with a horrifying explosion, it’s mostly a movie of words and worries, until it seamlessly and at first unnoticeably turns into a full-blown thriller. Points of view from public surveillance cameras keep popping up, making sure we know that people are, indeed, being watched, that out in the real world, you and I are being watched.
John Crowley gives us some terrific cinematic moments, such as when he juxtaposes scenes of Martin questioning Farroukh with scenes of Claudia, in some other location, questioning Farroukh’s wife and son. Crowley attains a whole different feel when he shows us the thoughts of Martin and Claudia, silently thinking of each other, flashing back to when they were in happier times.
It’s a film where complications not only ensue, they keep getting more complicated, before they’re resolved. It has a conclusion that initially feels tacked on, dealing with issues of justice and injustice, of fairness and morality, but then ends up feeling just right.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Steven Knight; directed by John Crowley
With Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Ciaran Hinds