The film opens as a dozen closed circuit cameras capture the innocence of shoppers in Borough Marketplace, the bustling food market in North Central London. There are so many cameras you can’t help but wonder, “Geez, are there cameras everywhere in London?” And the answer is Yes. Big Brother is alive and well in the UK. It’s an odd thing for Americans to get used to – everywhere in the UK where the public gathers, there are closed circuit cameras, about 1.85 million of them, one camera for every 32 people in the UK. A national study indicated that the average person in the UK is seen by 70 cameras in one day. Whoah!
But being seen is not the same thing as being caught, and more importantly, being seen is not the same as being caught in time to prevent crime. A few moments after we see all the cameras on screen zooming in and out with different people in the market, there is a huge explosion. 121 people are killed. Terrorists have struck again, a horrendous national tragedy.
Two of the terrorists, supposedly, are killed by the police. But the third, a Turkish immigrant named Farroukh Erdogan (Dennis Mochitto), is rounded up while asleep in his bed with his wife, and accused of being the mastermind of the attack. It seems an anonymous tip called in the man’s name to the police. Odd, you think, that a terrorist would be sleeping soundly at home instead of on the run.
Nevertheless, Erdogan is charged with the horrible crime and imprisoned to await trial. He won’t give any information other than to say he’s guilty. For what reason would he admit guilt from moment one of his interrogation? And he’s terribly sick, begging for a doctor. The reason he’s sick? Bad heroin, of course, sneaked into him past the prison guards.
Even terrorists need defense attorneys. Erdogan gets two. Here’s another odd English twist that Americans have to know to understand this movie. In matters of national security, the government claims the right to have secret testimony against the accused. Thus he is assigned an Advocate, who handles the secret information. This turns out to be Claudia Simmons-Howe (English-born Rebecca Hall, Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, 2008.) There is another attorney who handles only the information against his client that is considered open, such as from the police. This barrister is Matt Rose (Aussie Eric Bana, The Time Traveler’s Wife, 2009) who comes in at the last minute after his predecessor was killed in a fall from a roof.
The rules are very strict. These two barristers are never allowed to speak, never share the different information they get, never appear in court together—even though they are representing the same man. I found this a weird system, but that’s the way it is in England, or at least in this movie.
Only problem with these two barristers is they are ex-lovers, whose passionate affair destroyed Matt Rose’s marriage and haunts Claudia’s dreams. Contrary to their ethical rules, they deny the affair and accept their roles in what everyone is calling “the trial of the century.” Things aren’t going to be easy – they are both warned that the government wants a guilty verdict. So no matter how hard they work, they know the deck is stacked against their client.
The rest of the movie shows how completely that deck is stacked. How ubiquitous are those surveillance cameras. And to what ends the government and MI-5, the spy agency, will go to keep their dark secrets hidden from the glare of the truth. One by one the barristers uncover things that are nearly impossible to believe, except they see the ugly proof, one document, one misspoken sentence, one keen observance at a time. Soon it’s pretty clear, they will need all their intellectual resources to keep themselves alive and bring out the truth. For the most part, the story is intriguing and genuinely keeps your attention.
Even though they’re not on the A-list, Erica Bana and Rebecca Hall are both terrific actors and they draw you into the story even without the charisma of bigger stars. All the supporting players are equally fine—Julia Stiles as a doomed American journalist, Jim Broadbent as the reptilian Attorney General, and Ciaran Hinds, the friend who helps too much. In an attempt, it seems, to increase the number of villains played by women, the script gives a tasty part to Anne-Marie Duff, but her nastiness is too quickly revealed and not allowed to play out enough to really hate her.
The script is by Steven Knight, who wrote two previous movies that I found immensely gritty (Eastern Promises, and Ugly Pretty Things) so the story has a likeable underbelly component that is good for thrillers. Alas, anybody who’s familiar with thrillers figures out pretty quickly who the bad guys in this movie are. The enjoyment of the film is seeing them revealed, but there’s no real surprise.
Closed Circuit is competently directed by John Crowley, whose credits are mostly in television and one feature I’ve not seen (Is Anybody There?). But at only 96 minutes, the story, which should have had a lot more twists and turns, seems pedantically straight forward. Actually it seems as if a few scenes were cut, and a sorta happy ending tacked on.
If you like thriller/conspiracy hybrids, do see Closed Circuit, but see it soon since it’s not getting the buzz it deserves. Or wait until it comes out on DVD when there might be some interesting extra features that will make the film even more enjoyable.