London, and many other cities in the British isles, are already equipped with thousands upon thousands of close-circuit video monitors, making for what is perhaps a safer state, but can also be construed as a Big Brother-type, paranoia-inducing police state. John Crowley’s limp would-be legal thriller Closed Circuit does not address this notion of paranoia in any sort of way, opting instead to be a Grisham-esque life-of-the-lawyers retread that is drained of all of Grisham's appealing hokeyness, fun convoluted plotting, or slicked back sexiness. In short, Closed Circuit is a boring slog. A thriller with no thrills.
Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall play a pair of state-sponsored defense lawyers who have been assigned to defend the last surviving terrorist of a vicious suicide bombing that killed hundreds. Through some sort of British legal red tape, they are forced to work separately, investigating their cases independently. Bana is going through a divorce, mostly because he and Hall used to be covert lovers, a fact that they hide from their boss (Kenneth Cranham) and the attorney general (Jim Broadbent). Now is the time when we are all allowed to speak in unison: The case is far more complicated than it first appears, and may reveal a government conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, etc. etc. etc.
Maybe it's because I'm American, and I was raised on movies like The Firm, but I expect my legal thrillers to have more frantic investigation, more conflict, more running. There should be a lithe and muscular quality to thrillers, ensuring the audience is lost in the details enough to ignore the silliness of the film's plot. Closed Circuit is such a thriller, but badly paced, lazily filmed, and hopelessly opaque. I suspect that the filmmakers were given a pretty pat thriller script, but attempted to squeeze it into the maze-like mold of something like 2011's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. That was a film that banked on mystery and hidden agendas, and managed to feel complex and engaging, even if you couldn't follow what the heck was going on.
Closed Circuit is a film that is trying to stay hidden and mysterious, but fails because of its dumb script and pat characters. You can't have something that is dark and ineffable and gritty and meaningful if your plot is about ex-lovers investigating a government conspiracy with exploding trucks, hidden recorded messages, evil spy cab drivers, Ciarán Hinds making backdoor deals with undercover spies, a plucky American reporter (Julia Stiles), and scenes of Jim Broadbent eyeballing Eric Bana over breakfast, making threatening (and oddly sexual) speeches about how important political assassination is. This is essentially a pulp novel trying to dress in dad's classic pop lit duds. The sleeves flop about, the hair isn't combed, and the shoes clomp loudly on the hardwood floor. The clothes may be nice, but there's no way that kid looks like an adult.
Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall are good looking actors. They had an affair and are clearly still attracted to one another. Couldn't we at least have had a scene wherein one of them sweeps the contents of their desk onto the floor and roughly pushes the other one down onto it, kissing and groping and undressing them? No such luck. If you're going to do pulp, do pulp. Don't dress it up in something serious.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. If you want to buy him a gift (and I know you do), you can visit his Amazon Wish List.