John Crowley’s Closed Circuit is a bleak and serious Frankenstein’s monster, attempting as it does to coalesce the political relevance of films such as Munich, the byzantine plot contortions of the BBC’s State of Play, and the propulsive rhythm of the Jason Bourne films. Tragically, the burnished end result suggests Enemy of the State without the winking self-awareness.
Eric Bana plays Martin Rose, the new defense attorney for Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), an immigrant accused of masterminding the bombing of a London market. As screenwriting contrivance would have it, the British attorney general (Jim Broadbent) appoints an additional special advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), who happens to be Martin’s ex-lover, to collaborate on the case. As in State of Play, the two discover that they (and most of the other characters) are merely pawns being shuffled around by near-omnipotent government institutions tainted to an unfathomable degree by corruption. Closed Circuit runs through the paranoia-thriller playbook step by step, introducing improbably influential journalists, unassuming (until they’re not) government agents, cover-ups galore, and, hilariously, a subplot involving a child hacker.
Unfortunately, there’s a disjunction between the script’s po-faced righteousness and the increasingly ridiculous plotting. It fails as a critique of draconian security states and surveillance culture, moving too fast to properly consider any of the well-worn ideas it glosses over. Nor does it work as straight-up action thriller, shoehorning its lawyer protagonists awkwardly into third-act chase sequences whose outcomes are unsurprising. The cast, though, gamely attempts to put a respectable face on the absurd screenplay. Hall delivers Steven Knight’s unsubtle, clunky dialogue with admirable conviction, and Riz Ahmed is compelling in spite of being miscast as the government spook who serves as the primary antagonist. As for Bana, his sad-eyed soulfulness is a touch of grace if one believes it signifies a ruse on Martin’s part and not, following the actor’s similarly reluctant, oft-betrayed heroes from Munich and Hanna, a default performance mode.
Ultimately, Closed Circuit is a waste of a strong cinematic pedigree. Crowley, after his promising debut, Intermission, and remarkable Boy A, appears to have been tasked solely with competently reproducing Paul Greengrass’s signature ADD-afflicted aesthetic, prodding his capable performers through their motions under a haze of blue filters. Despite the timeliness of its topic, the film feels oddly dated (the kid-hacker angle doesn’t help matters) and simplistic in its outrage, leaving little room for the audience to draw its own conclusions about the very real concerns being dealt with here. It’s the Low Winter Sun of conspiracy movies, all doom, gloom, and mannered cynicism without the thematic heft of its spiritual predecessors.