Review: 'Closed Circuit'

(Two stars)

You've seen worse than the new legal thriller "Closed Circuit," but you've also seen a lot better. Despite breathless proclamations about "the biggest, most high-profile murder case in British history" and timely trappings of closely held government secrets threatening to come to light, it all turns out to be rather boilerplate.

The film begins with CCTV footage of a London bombing, which sets the stage for the trial of suspected terrorist Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto). But while the title alludes to that footage -- itself a symbol of the privacy citizens have ceded in the last decade or so -- it also refers to the inescapable system that keeps those "in the loop" in the loop with those kept "in the dark": a system in which a travesty of justice seems inevitable.

That's a problem for two well-meaning lawyers: defense barrister Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and Erdogan's Special Advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall). Rose has landed the case only under suspicious circumstances (the apparent suicide of his predecessor), and the mutual presence of Simmons-Howe and him represents a major issue, in that they're bound to disclose their prior relationship. That would mean one of them dropping the case, which neither has any intention of doing.

And so the otherwise justice-minded duo fudges the law at the outset of their work, which also requires a total blackout of communication while a determination is made as to how much secret evidence may be withheld from the view of Rose and the public "in the interest of national security." It's awfully difficult to swallow Martin and Claudia jeopardizing the hugely important case on a technicality that's a) obviously bound to come around and bite them and b) predictably the very reason Martin was put on the case.

Just when you suspend disbelief for those shenanigans, the paranoid-thriller mechanics set in, and "Closed Circuit" starts to feel an awful lot like business as usual. Snarky commentary about the "fair and transparent" legal system does mean a couple of delicious scenes between Bana and the great Jim Broadbent, who expertly plays the Attorney General as a politician who's simultaneously discreet and shameless. The supporting cast is filled out nicely by Riz Ahmed (canny as Hall's overseer), Ciaran Hinds (as Martin's confidant) and Julia Stiles (as a ruthless reporter).

"There is no right way out of this," Martin frets to Claudia, and that the film stays pretty well true to that conclusion says something for the screenplay by Steven Knight ("Eastern Promises," "Dirty Pretty Things"). But the direction by John Crowley ("Intermission," Extraordinary Measures") is little more than competent, allowing the electricity to escape from this "Closed Circuit."

Rated R for language and brief violence. One hour, 36 minutes.


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