A thoroughly watchable film for fans of British political thrillers, Closed Circuit is tense and fun, even if it's not a work of genius. The movie is well cast, well acted, and competently directed, which is more than you can say for a lot of ultimately forgettable spy flicks. The only problem is that it doesn't seem to have its footing in a particularly brilliant script -- an unfair criticism, perhaps, but for a screenplay by the writer of a masterpiece like Eastern Promises, it's one that a fan of the genre can't help leveling.
The story concerns a suicide bombing in a crowded London market, which ultimately kills more than 100 people. When it comes time to prosecute the alleged mastermind of the plot, the English judicial system dictates that the defendant, a Turkish man named Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), will be appointed two lawyers: a defense attorney, Martin Rose (Eric Bana), and a special advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall). The reason for the special advocate is that the state has evidence that, for the sake of national security, it feels should remain secret -- from the public, as well as from Erdogan and Rose. But, of course, prosecuting a man based on evidence he never gets to see sounds a lot like railroading, so Simmons-Howe gets to view the secret evidence separately, in closed session, and make a plea to the judge about whether it should be made public based on her own understanding of her client and the case. If this sounds a little shady, that's because it is -- or at least, that's how it's portrayed.
In order to keep all of these state secrets as safe as possible, the special advocate and attorney aren't supposed to communicate with each other at all during the case. Which is fitting, because Rose and Simmons-Howe are former lovers. However, Rose soon divines that his case isn't so clear-cut, and that there are forces with a vested interest in the outcome who aren't concerned with the truth -- unless you count a willingness to maim, kill, and disgrace those who get too close to it. So a paranoid series of taught sequences ensue, with the leads buying and dumping disposable cell phones, handing each other hand-written messages in wiretapped rooms, and deciphering enigmatic clues whispered into tape recorders -- all while traveling through a modern urban world that both the protagonists and the audience are increasingly aware is under constant surveillance.
By and large, the most important aspect of a thriller is pacing; it's hard to be thrilled if you're bored. And Closed Circuit has great pacing. In fact, if you're already a lover of MI5 cloak-and-dagger and courtroom thrillers, it would be silly not to recommend the film. But while the narrative itself is quite taut, the story here is not exactly tightly woven -- which is to say, there are a number of plot holes. Unwieldy backstory is packed into awkward exposition just a little too often not to be embarrassing (Don't be concerned about me, Mr. Attorney General, just because of my recent messy divorce and custody battle!). Upper-level conspirators accidentally give away their secret bad-guy allegiance with ridiculously clumsy conversation (How could he know that?! He must be working for them!). Our heroes, hunted by trained spies, somehow manage to successfully hide out in places that any pursuer would most definitely know to look for them (hey, the fact that Big Brother is watching is only implied in the very title of film). They're the kinds of flaws that some viewers might not notice, but for others, they all but completely ruin the movie.