I have no insider knowledge about the production process of Closed Circuit, or what the film looked like when director John Crowley-- previously of Boy A-- turned in his first cut to the studio. But the fingerprints of a messy editing process are all over Closed Circuit, a warmed-over thriller that doesn't just feature too many good actors for something this bland, but awkward scenes, characters who drift in and out of the narrative, and even a final, apparently climactic scene reduced to audio played over the final shot. The intended version of Closed Circuit may not be any better, or even exist, but it's comforting to think that the likes of Rebecca Hall, Eric Bana and Jim Broadbent at least thought they were participating in something better.
You may want to brush up on the ins and outs of the British legal system before seeing Closed Circuit, which had me convinced for half its runtime that Bana and Hall were playing rival lawyers until I realized they were in fact defending the same man, Bana as an appointed attorney and Hall as a "special advocate." The defendant is Turkish-born Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), the only surviving member of a terror cell that, in the film's jarring first scene, detonates a truck bomb in a crowded outdoor market. Bana is only assigned to the case after the initial barrister kills himself, but as he and Hall-- who are ex-lovers, wouldn't you know-- dig into the case, they each start to see evidence that it wasn't a suicide at all. Is it possible that the British government, pressing down on them for a conviction, has something to cover up? And would you believe the scandal could go all the way to the top?
Of course you believe it, because this is how political thrillers go, and though Closed Circuit has a few beats that seem drawn from our NSA/Edward Snowden world, it could really be about any government scandal at any time that has the power to send our heroes running for their lives. It would probably work in its own derivative way if the tension weren't botched so often. Our heroine is sent running from an attack inside her apartment and meets up with Bana at a secretly arranged location, and the tense music continues to build and build without ever reaching climax-- leading me to believe for a hot minute that maybe Bana wasn't to be trusted either. Julia Stiles is introduced briefly as a nosy New York Times reporter who seems to know even more than Bana does, but never sticks around long enough to explain herself. The characters constantly intuit things we have no way of knowing, without us even knowing how they figured it out; every time the mystery coheres into a followable thread it veers off again, nearly as confusing and arcane as those wigs the lawyers have to wear in court.
The sidelines of Closed Circuit are stacked with enough British talent to keep things entertaining enough, from Ciaran Hinds as Bana's confidant to Jim Broadbent as the hardass Attorney General to Anne-Marie Duff as a chilly government drone who, surprise surprise, is more than she appears. And Hall, just as she did in Iron Man 3, brings life to a character who basically doesn't exist-- her chilly brush-offs of the MI5 agent played by Riz Ahmed are hilarious and perfectly timed, but she elevates the character above the "chilly, professional lawyer whose heart must be melted by Eric Bana" level, which is surely what was there in the script. Bana, as usual, is perfectly fine, but there's not enough in this story for us to buy him as a genius lawyer who's one step ahead of a very big, very scary conspiracy. It's all filmed very sleekly and the real London locations are nice enough to visit, in the handful of moments when the tension and rhythms of the film finally line up. Unfortunately for Closed Circuit and any number of other, similarly weak thrillers, actual headlines these days are far more tense and interesting than anything it manages to dream up.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich