Film Review: ‘Closed Circuit’
Opening a week after Bradley Manning’s sentencing in the U.S., where significant portions of the case were held in secret to protect national security, British courtroom thriller “Closed Circuit” challenges the validity of policies that shield key evidence from public scrutiny. Since the topic itself isn’t especially sexy, screenwriter Steven Knight cooks up a plot in which a pair of defense lawyers who were once a couple find themselves on opposite sides of the secrecy divide, injecting romantic intrigue into this slick, smarter-than-usual conspiracy yarn — a late-summer counter-programmer for those who prefer brain stimulation to having their eyeballs and eardrums pummeled.
The risk of appealing to the audience’s intelligence is that they’ll be smart enough to see through the logical gaps perpetrated along the way, and “Closed Circuit” presents some pretty big ones, managing to be righteously indignant about the handling of a high-profile terrorism case while conveniently allowing its heroes to break the rules.
When a truck explodes in London’s bustling Borough Market, authorities are swift in arresting Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), the man they accuse of masterminding the terrorist attack. In order to try his case, the court must consider evidence so sensitive, even the defendant is not allowed to hear it. In such unusual situations, the accused is entitled to two separate lawyers, one to try his case in public, and the other to serve as special advocate during the closed portions of the trial.
In dramatizing such a case, Knight quickly makes clear how difficult it is for someone to defend himself under such circumstances. Still, it’s hard for the film to take the moral high ground when it asks audiences to accept an ethical lapse straight out of the gate on behalf of the “good guys,” defense attorneys Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), owing to a previous love affair that compromises their ability to refrain from sharing information in a case that demands exactly that.
Instead of recusing themselves on ethical grounds, they let their egos get the better of them. Rose steps in after the unexpected suicide (or was it?) of his legal mentor in spite of his connection to the special advocate — a decision that allows certain Powers That Be to manipulate him down the road. “Closed Circuit” belongs to that tradition of paranoid political thriller exemplified by 1985’s “Edge of Darkness” and countless American pics where shadowy government forces will stop at nothing to mask their own corruption. It’s an exciting genre, but one in which valid institutional criticisms tend to get lost in the overall sense of hysteria. “Closed Circuit” is no exception, its title designed to raise the alarm over both the injustice of closed court hearings and the use of near-ubiquitous surveillance technology throughout London.
Covert surveillance also factored heavily in screenwriter Knight’s recent feature directing debut, “Redemption,” in which cameras tracked the whereabouts of Jason Statham’s frantic man-on-the-run. Here, director John Crowley (“Intermission”) amplifies the sense that London has become a police state by frequently shifting between the film’s own omniscient point of view (a convention audiences readily accept) and footage lifted from security cameras around town, which feels creepy by comparison, since we don’t know who’s watching or how they’re using it.