London eye – Closed Circuit review

Closed Circuit

By Simon Miraudo
December 2, 2013

How much do we value our privacy? Is it worth more than our safety? Should a government be allowed to operate outside the margins of a so-called free society, so that it may – perhaps paradoxically – remain free? These are the questions being pondered in TV shows like Homeland and Scandal, and only barely by John Crowley‘s movie Closed Circuit. In the wake of WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, and even the recent revelation that the Australian Signals Directorate were keeping an eye on the President of Indonesia, the currency of secrets has never been of greater concern.

This see-saw between freedom and security is a difficult one to balance, and the incredibly timely Closed Circuit, which tells of the toll caused by U.K. spies who go from ‘watching’ a terrorist plot to actively assisting it, could have best captured and capitalised on our current state of affairs. Instead, it’s a merely serviceable pot-boiler about a barrister getting too close to a case, and endangering himself in the process. We’ve seen this before. The context is different, but the content is nothing new.

We open on an (admittedly) impressively staged set-piece, in which a dozen CC cameras capture a banal morning at London’s Borough Markets, before an explosion devastates the area. Do not expect us to revisit this footage, Blow-Up style, to identify the culprit. It is one of only two set-pieces to utilise the picture’s very title as a storytelling device, making it a bit of a false advertisement really.

Closed Circuit

What follows is par for the course. Eric Bana plays stubborn lawyer Martin Rose, hired to defend the only surviving suspect, who the Crown is calling a terrorist mastermind. This being a case of national security, not all the evidence will be released in public court. Only special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (a great British name; she’s played by the equally great Rebecca Hall) is allowed to glimpse the classified materials, and then has to argue for its visibility in a closed hearing. The two of them eventually unravel a major conspiracy that leads all the way up to the Attorney General (Jim Broadbent), finding their lives on the line as a result. They are also ex-lovers, because heaven forfend there not be a romantic entanglement in a mainstream thriller.

Screenwriter Steven Knight lays a lot of track in the first act, explaining the meaning of a closed hearing time and time again. At one point, Bana’s character re-explains to Hall that they can’t communicate once she’s seen the secret documents, going so far as to say “That’s me” when he mentions the word ‘barrister’. The makers clearly don’t have a lot of faith in their audience. The most intriguing questions raised by the premise go largely unexplored, and Crowley doesn’t even try to impose a sense of Big Brother’s unblinking eye keeping watch over London (our heroes never go off ‘the grid’ to escape the intelligence community; something even the relatively ancient Y2K-panic flicks knew to be essential for survival).

Yet, Crowley moves it all along at a good clip, and there are at least a couple of thrilling sequences amid the mire. Bana and Hall are appealing leads, while utility player Riz Ahmed gives a nice turn as an MI5 agent. Ultimately, Closed Circuit passes by without much complaint, and it’s at least coming to cinemas at an opportune moment for those invested in real-world espionage. However, if this is indeed the time to ask hard questions of ourselves and our government, Closed Circuit shouldn’t be the film we turn to for inspiration.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Closed Circuit arrives in Australian cinemas December 5, 2013.

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