London has more than one “Eye”
Closed Circuit refers to the type of surveillance camera that patrols, in this film’s case, the many winding streets of London. In fact, the entire first scene is composed of a mosaic of multiple screens, highlighting specific voices and conversations becoming a kinetic “Where’s Waldo?” If anything, that scene pays homage to just how difficult and demanding a video security officer’s watch is, at once focused and scattered, compartmentalized and broad. The job’s oxymoronic nature appropriately fits this film, intricately detailing paranoia and swiftly sweeping plot points along.
Under director John Crowley, using a script by Steven Knight, both our surveillance targets, or victims, whichever lens we swap seeing them through, are Martin Rose and Claudia Simmons-Howe, which is just a perfectly glorious British name. They are played by Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, respectively, two defense lawyers for an Iranian terrorist Farrouk, allegedly responsible for bombing a truck in Borough Market killing over 100 people. Acting as a defense team is a daunting task just by nature of a post 9-11 landscape. In this bombing, supposedly the largest act of terrorism in British history, they become public faces for the murderous suspect, seen as figures trying to weasel around judicial power rather than uphold it.
It’s a closed trial, which means the defense lawyer, Martin, and the special advocate, Claudia, are to remain separate from each other so as not to discuss the evidence only Claudia is allowed to search through first. The sticking point of course is that the two have had a previous relationship, one that would legally compromise their current positions in the case. They privately agree, naturally, to table any lingering emotions and testify to their isolated histories.
This adds a thin layer of tension to the proceedings, but the chemistry both supposedly achieved in years past never seems urgent or inevitable to repeat. Bana and Hall are fine actors if not carrying blank and bland personalities with them. Similar to the relationship between Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn’s characters in The Interpreter, another similarly toned film, the primary focus remains on the task at hand, a high profile terrorist case. Love, or maybe more appropriately long-dampened, muted desire, thankfully never transgresses their professional moral guidelines. That would turn a political thriller into yet another silly contrivance.
The plot thickens after Claudia and Martin find evidence that the terrorist may actually be a conspirator for MI5. More clues fall into place, more conspiracies emerge. Julia Styles lends advice as a New York Times reporter and always has a knack for showing up in films like this. She appeared in the Bourne franchise, which began to set the precedent to the secret agent, shaky camera, surveillance style. Here Jim Broadbent also shows up as a government senior law officer and adviser to the Prime Minister with some sly words, and Farrouk’s son has information to raise the stakes.
Why are these two only now experiencing the debilitating effects of government and its privacy? Crowley flips through Orwell and highlights the threats towards Edward Snowden type instigators. He suggests the private veneer of government is a front for an insular sect of schemers, in need of transparency.
Surveyed through a dark gray lens, endemic to London, Closed Circuit is never dull, but never fully engaging. It’s a smart movie, mentally stimulating and requiring attention. Nothing really seems too dire even though we know that lives are in danger, that there is love to be re-established. This is a depressing but still effective thriller that let’s you keep pace with the governmental twists and turns to enjoy them, and more appropriately critique them.