Martin Rose, the conflicted barrister in Closed Circuit, has characteristics of both Perry Mason and James Bond, but isn’t as clever as either one. The same can be said of the film itself.
This low-key crime thriller from director John Crowley (Boy A) offers a glimpse into the British justice system but instead of providing an incisive critique, it only yields a halfhearted examination. In its place is a series of generic procedural elements coupled with standard-issue romantic melodrama.
The film tracks a high-profile terrorism case in a British courtroom, in which a Muslim suspect is put on trial for a tragic explosion in London. The public defense team consists of barrister Martin (Eric Bana) and special advocate Claudia (Rebecca Hall), former lovers who try not to let relationship complications interfere with the job at hand.
As they gather information and hear classified evidence before the judge (Kenneth Cranham), both Martin and Claudia suspect the case is more complicated than it first appeared, or than prosecutors and government officials want the public to believe.
So they become crusaders for justice, diving into a web of cover-ups, corruption and conspiracy theories that becomes tricky — and dangerous — to expose.
Both American and British audiences will be able to appreciate the topical nature of the screenplay by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), who certainly seems to have done his research into courtroom policies and procedures. The film’s unique judicial perspective becomes modestly insightful with regard to modern espionage and surveillance techniques.
Provocative yet muddled, it’s a character-driven thriller with more talk than action, although an opening sequence involving a terrorist act packs a punch. Yet the twists generally are more familiar than fresh, which decreases the level of suspense. Despite some taut pacing, the story becomes more preposterous as it goes along.
Bana and Hall offer fine performances while generating a mildly effective chemistry. The competent supporting cast includes veterans Jim Broadbent and Ciaran Hinds as higher-ups who are shady to various degrees.
In some ways, Closed Circuit feels like a throwback to gritty, tightly wound thrillers of the 1970s like Three Days of the Condor or The Conversation. But it doesn’t generate nearly the same degree of tension, nor does it have a comparable payoff.
Rated R, 96 minutes.