London has a reputation as a city where the all-seeing eye of surveillance technology is especially pervasive. As the Christian Science Monitor put it in a report last year, it’s “considered the most spied-on city in the world, courtesy of its ubiquitous CCTV cameras, purportedly there to reduce crime.” So you hear that we’re getting a British political thriller titled “Closed Circuit” and you instantly start to imagine the creepy possibilities. None of which are explored, really, as director John Crowley (“Boy A”) churns out a familiar conspiracy exercise in which bureaucracy goes very, very bad. Instead of all-seeing, it’s more like seen it all before.
The story opens with a sequence that’s even rougher, surely, than the filmmakers intend, as a visual cacophony of monitor footage shows us the moments leading up to a deadly bombing in London’s Borough Market. Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is the lawyer appointed to defend a Muslim immigrant (Denis Moschitto) arrested as the mastermind, an assignment that’s already driven a troubled colleague to suicide. Adding to the load is the news that Martin’s ex-lover, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), is also working the trial as a special advocate for the accused, a dubious arrangement even without the tabloid-perfect conflict of interest. And what, exactly, is the classified evidence that only she’s allowed to see?
The familiar faces peering in at the proceedings are among our blunt clues that there’s more to the case. Jim Broadbent, as the British attorney general, makes cryptic observations and lip-smacking noises over breakfast meetings that peg him as a ministerial snake. Ciarán Hinds is amusingly wry as Martin’s legwork man, and Riz Ahmed is generically unctuous as a British security service liaison hovering over Claudia. Julia Stiles also drops by as a New York Times reporter who’s a bit quicker than Martin to perceive the blatantly ominous stuff.
The suspense never deepens much, hinging as it does on developments that just aren’t startling. Hel-lo, what’s this? Martin and Claudia are being watched? Yeah, we got that, even if the movie mostly forgets about the Orwellian-technology motif that was supposed to tell us so. (Instead, Martin finds the same taxi picking him up again and again.) The longer the mystery continues down its obvious path, the more it all feels like it’s shifting from polished to silly, with characters prattling about “a grave miscarriage of justice!” and such.
We do get a taste of something different when Martin and Claudia finally realize that they’re probably going to have to admit defeat, for their own safety. There are some interesting thoughts here on fighting the system – which the film then undermines by tacking on a closing audio snippet from Broadbent’s character, apparently addressing some sort of parliamentary inquiry. Not exactly the fly-on-the-wall material we were promised.