While we may be waiting a little while for a proper sequel to 2011's John Le Carre adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the famed espionage author and the film's producers have provided a solid appetizer in Closed Circuit. Moving beyond the paranoia and anxiety of the Cold War era and into today's disquieting tug of war between transparency and national security, the film doesn't get too far into the weeds of the issue and lands squarely on being a provocative, if somewhat unspectacular political thriller.
Eric Bana is British defense barrister (yep they wear the funny wigs too) Martin Vickers, a man whose cocky attitude belies the midlife crisis he's stuck in. Divorced and with only his career to lean on, he's thrust into the "trial of the century" defending the suspect in a terrorist bombing that struck London's market district. Right away something isn't right, as an old colleague of Martin's assigned to the case is found dead by an apparent suicide, and the prosecution has their own shady government-sanctioned tricks up their sleeve. To combat it, Martin's ex-lover Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) is brought in to shore up the defense, but they're hamstrung by British law that prevents them from communicating before the case.
But what would a movie like this be without these two legal eagles breaking a few rules? What seemed like an open and shut case is revealed to be a deep, multi-layered conspiracy that threatens to consume everybody in its path. The dangers of being a whistleblower, an issue our own country continues to deal with on a regular basis, are laid bare as sources are marked for death and the lawyers end up in the crosshairs. With more than their professional lives at stake, Martin and Rebecca embrace their romantic pasts with smoldering results, thanks to a white-hot chemistry between Bana and Hall. In fact, the film works considerably better when they are together because it's easier to invest in their dangerous relationship than their characters' back stories, which are never given enough time to develop. Martin is a man with a son (Game of Thrones star Isaac Hempstead-Wright) he barely knows, and by the end of the film neither do we. Julia Stiles, Ciaran Hinds, Jim Broadbent, and Riz Ahmed complete an all-around excellent cast as characters whose nebulous motivations can turn on a dime. At only about 90 minutes in length, it only would have helped turn up the heat to develop some of the other roles even further.
Screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) knows his way around a twisty potboiler, and while the swerves and fresh mysteries are frequent, few of them are truly surprising. You know that any extraneous characters hanging around are either in on the conspiracy or doomed to be trampled by it. John Crowley, a director best known for introducing the world to Andrew Garfield in Boy A, evokes an unsettling sense of mood where watchful eyes are seemingly everywhere. Closed Circuit is a mature, well-made film that could do with taking a few more risks. If the point is that government will take the most desperate measures to save face, it's a message we already know all too well.