Reporting Eric Henderson
Closed Circuit aims to rectify the problem of how to make a paranoia conspiracy thriller within a setting that demonstrates the ludicrous level of transparency in the age of surveillance.
And it fails, understandably.
Not that you can fault the filmmakers for trying to recapture the halcyon heights of The Conversation and The Parallax View, but as the film’s final shot makes clear, British culture is less about what you don’t see and more about what everyone is saying over each other.
Closed Circuit stars Eric Bana as Martin Rose, a barrister who is assigned to step in for a recently deceased lawyer and defend a man blamed for masterminding a bombing at bustling London market. More than 120 people have been killed, and both the public and the government are anxious to tag-and-bag someone, anyone.
Working alongside but in seclusion from Martin is Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), the suspected terrorist’s special counsel. The rules of the British court system stipulate that they may not share privileged, confidential information lest they warp the trial.
(Any fun to be had from the film, at least for American audiences, is in sifting through the details that differentiate how trials are conducted in the U.K. versus how they’re handled stateside. Screenwriter Steven Knight must have taken this into consideration, since scene after scene features attorneys and judges explicating procedural minutiae at great length.)
Martin, a shallowly-written character who responds to the approach of a New York Times journalist with all the warmth of a cattle prod and then a few scenes later desperately seeks her guidance, comes to suspect that his client’s previous barrister may not have committed suicide as reported, but may have been eliminated by those seeking to cover up the true nature of the bombings.
It doesn’t take a genius to see who’s pulling Martin’s strings here, especially since director John Crowley keeps returning the film’s focus on London’s omnipresent surveillance cameras capturing everyone’s every move. It’s likely the only appropriate way to handle the material, but it’s also the most self-defeating one. Classic paranoia thrillers at least partially mitigate their pessimism through the promise of transcendence, but Closed Circuit suggests that the truth is all just a bunch of white noise coming from out of Parliament.