James Crowley’s “Closed Circuit” takes an icy cold and cynical look at the British government, a government that, in the movie, acts as a powerful, oppressive force capable of carrying out (or covering up) anything they want despite the efforts of even the most determined and honest lawyers (or the British equivalent of a lawyer). There is no defeating them. Or escaping them, for that matter, not with the many closed circuit security cameras perched all around London. As the tagline states: “They see your every move.” Even though Crowley’s film takes place in London and therefore deals with things pertaining to British law, its subject matter (government monitoring of citizen activity) should prove relevant and timely to American audiences, in light of the recent scandals involving the NSA monitoring of emails and phone calls. Although the situation in London appears to be much more extreme, the NSA isn’t monitoring our actions with street surveillance cameras…at least not yet.
However, aside from that real life connection, “Closed Circuit” is a fairly standard conspiracy thriller (structure wise) that’s somewhat intriguing but ultimately undone by uninteresting characters. It starts rather abruptly when a bomb goes off in a populated area of London, followed by a suspect named Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) being apprehended. Two lawyers, Martin Vickers (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) are assigned to his defense. At first everything seems normal, weird things happen now and again (Martin somehow catches the exact same taxi numerous times at different locations around the city) but nothing to get alarmed about.
But then—as they get deeper into the case— the weird happenings start to escalate and it becomes clear that there are mysterious, ominous forces at work, interfering with Martin and Claudia’s work. They soon become paranoid, looking over their shoulders, constantly getting the sensation that they’re being watched. And with all of those security cameras seemingly positioned at every street corner, they are being watched. An unnerving, impending sense of doom pulses through every frame in “Closed Circuit.” While watching it you can’t help but be reminded of the same eerie paranoia felt in other conspiracy movies such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” and Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out.” And like those pictures, “Closed Circuit” has a similar pessimistic ending.
The movie is well made. Jim Clay’s production design is handsome and neat, the cinematography by Adriano Goldman is simple but effective in creating a sense of paranoia, and he photographs the entire movie in a dark blue/greyish light. Crowley moves the picture along at a steady pace and Joby Talbot’s score heightens the eeriness and intrigue. Yet, despite all of this and despite Bana and Hall’s best efforts, “Closed Circuit” fails to create compelling protagonists and therefore we have a hard time getting invested in the movie’s twists and turns. The protagonists in “The Conversation” and “Blow out” (played by Gene Hackman and John Travolta) had an imperfect, everyman quality that made them fascinating to watch. They had personality, but Martin and Claudia come off too clean and one note. They’re good honest lawyers, dedicated to the case…whoop-de-doo. Martin has an estranged son but this matter is hardly ever brought up and so it comes off as a lame attempt at characterization. Also, in an attempt to create some backstory and tension between the two lawyers, we find out early that Martin and Claudia used to be romantically involved with each other. But Crowley and screenwriter Steven Knight don’t really do anything with this development after introducing it. It doesn’t affect anything else in the plot and doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for Claudia and Martin; they can work on the case just fine. And for playing ex lovers Bana and Hall have almost zero chemistry together.
To put it simply, they’re forgettable, ultimately making the entire film rather forgettable and making its other minor flaws more blatant. All of which is a shame considering the movie’s craftsmanship and its relevance to current events.