Closed Circuit

Directed By: John Crowley

Starring: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent, Riz Ahmed, and Julia Stiles

The all-encompassing reach of covert government organizations has been a hot topic for discussion this year.  That's largely thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden and his disclosures about the NSA several months ago.  The American government is getting all the data in the world on us, and I use the term "us" fairly loosely.  If you use the Internet, you're one of us.  If you use a phone, you're one of us.  If you use snail mail, you're one of us.  Many of us in the last several months have been airing our discontent with the secret actions of the NSA that have tipped the delicate balance of liberty and security in this nation.  With that in mind, it's so fitting that we get a thriller this weekend about a spy agency that thinks it's above the people on whose behalf it works.  The only problem is that this thriller is no good.

On a fateful day in London, approximately 120 people are murdered at Borough Market in London when a bomb is detonated by a terrorist.  Investigations implicate a suspect named Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), and police detain him for trial.  Because Erdogan's case will revolve around suspected acts of terrorism, secrecy trumps transparency in this legal affair.  In fact, protecting the Crown's secrets is so paramount that there will be two parts to Erdogan's trial.  The first part will pertain only to evidence that is not classified and will be open to the public.  A defense lawyer has been appointed to defend Erdogan in public.  The other portion of the trial will pertain to classified national security secrets and will be closed to the public, including the defense attorney.  A special advocate, who can have no interaction with Erdogan's defense lawyer, has been appointed to represent the accused terrorist in secret.

Six months after the suspected terrorist is arrested and Britain's murder trial of the century is announced, Erdogan's defense attorney "commits suicide" by throwing himself from a rooftop.  Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is appointed as Erdogan's new public defender.  The attorney general (Jim Broadbent) is apparently unaware of the fact that Rose had an affair with Erdogan’s special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) that recently cost him his marriage.  With his delegate Devlin (Ciarán Hinds) monitoring Rose and MI5 agent Nazrul Sharma (Riz Ahmed) helping Simmons-Howe handle the classified evidence on the case, the attorney general won't be in the dark for long.  As Rose begins investigating the case and moves around the city of London, he notices that he has been catching the same cab at different times in different parts of the city since starting on this case.  Meanwhile, Simmons-Howe begins to suspect that Sharma's intentions are not so pure.  Both lawyers are being handled by the powers at play that are trying to keep a dark secret that could undermine the foundations of this national security state and the corrupt legal system enabling it.

Closed Circuit is an underwhelming movie that fails to thrill and consistently hangs onto its stars' charms for dear life.  Like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it's a very low key British spy thriller about corruption in the system.  Unlike Tomas Alfredson's 2011 film, however, Closed Circuit isn't an engaging story with rich characters.  Because of this, John Crowley's decision to take the creative risk of trying to make a slow thriller full of subtlety and nuance backfires.  Instead of an intricate, understated thriller, Crowley offers a muted, underdeveloped film.  Closed Circuit is ultimately one boring affair.

The largest problem afflicting Closed Circuit is predictability.  You can call everything you're going to see in this movie from the very beginning.  Partially, this is because the trailer has given away too much.  Mostly though, the film is just reheated leftovers from the thrillers of yesteryear.  Crowley pulls all the standard plays from the political thriller playbook but writes no plays of his own.  This reverberates throughout the film and is no more apparent than in the ending.  By the time we've spent 90 minutes wading through formulaic minutiae, Crowley gives up and cuts the film short with a few minutes alluding to what happens next for Rose, Simmons-Howe, and the monumental case on which they’ve been working.  Obviously, you'll see it coming a mile away, literally.

Crowley is wise to make a movie about corruption in a covert organization responsible for protecting the very citizens it deceives.  Thematically, this aligns perfectly with events that have been playing out on the world stage over the last several months as debate rages over the role of government and how much privacy we're willing to give up for safety.  That being said, Crowley fails to deliver the goods, and his film just doesn't pack a punch.  You're going to need a few glasses of gin and tonic for this one.  Closed Circuit gets a 0.09% rating.