Closed Circuit opens on a series of images taken from the titular cameras. Multiple views of London’s Borough Market and other vendors show people in motion and on split screens, time stamps marking off seconds as they walk in pairs and talk on cellphones, their shopping bags full of green vegetables and yellow fruits. Just a minute or so into the sequence, a bomb explodes.
It’s an arresting start, certainly, as you might imagine which of these everyday lives was cut short, whose understanding of the world was changed forever, and how much damage might have been done. The film takes another tack, launching into more vividly framed media image, shots of TV coverage, police investigations, and institutional exteriors, as politicians proclaim the urgency of exacting justice. This plot brings in an accused terrorist, Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), and his defenders, the lawyer Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and the special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), the latter selected by the attorney general (Jim Broadbent).
Immediately, this machinery is crowded with wrenches. Martin is replacing another attorney, an apparent suicide; moreover, Martin and Claudia once had an affair, one that led to his divorce from a very angry ex, seen only in long shots as she frowns while dropping off their young son. the affair is pictured in flashbacks of the most banal sort, slow motion, soft focus images of the couple laughing or dancing or drinking wine, all to suggest how perfect they were, but not to explain what went wrong or how they came to be so bitterly estranged that each tries strenuously to have the other removed from the case.
Before you can say “conspiracy,” you see that they will be working together, not disclosing the supposed secret of their affair (news of which would cause both to lose heir careers, if they persist on this particular case). And with that, they begin to sort out the weak evidence against their client, and worse, the likelihood that he’s been set up. Owing to the intricacies of their positions, Claudia and Martin must conduct their investigations and interviews separately, and not share information or even speak with one another. Martin has an encounter with a New York Times reporter (Julia Stiles, on screen for about five minutes, once in running gear so she can meet Martin in a park, completely obviously), learns that Farroukh has another identity and a heroin habit, while Claudia discovers some other inconsistencies in the government’s files.
All this intrigue seems predictable, especially as it’s wrapped up in the melodramatic travails of the couple-that-is-not. Their spats tend to take them off track from the case, and their flashbacks tend to rejigger the film’s rhythm and your focus… until you realize that their relationship is the film’s primary concern, with terrorism and cameras and government corruption all just an occasion for the romance.
This is too bad, because the romance is tedious at best, set in very nice flats, featuring very nice designer outfits and very white complexions. The film misses a much more compelling plot in the story of Farroukh’s teenaged son Emir (Hasancan Cifci). This a story not quite revealed in an interview Claudia conducts under the watchful eye of a handler and, yes, more close circuit cameras. When he figures out how to communicate a secret to her, she takes forever to translate it, and in the meantime, the boy’s life—as well as that of his mother Ilkay (Pinar Ögün)—is increasingly at risk. This points to the film’s exceedingly annoying structure, that is, using these troubled, underclass, immigrant individuals as a means to underscore Martin and Claudia’s so-earnest angst, not to mention their so-slow courses of inquiry.
Just when you want to shake them, and then someone else does it for you, actually a couple of someones, working more or less together (because, in this conspiracy, almost everyone is aligned against Martin and Claudia). But that only compounds the movie’s bad-plotting problem, for these someones are as hackneyed as they come, an icy blond, a thug with a mean face, and a couple of other thugs with even meaner faces and a few weapons to boot. With all the running through alleys in canted frames and jumping from windows and missed phone calls, Emir is rather forgotten, except as a source of evidence that might clear Martin and Claudia’s names. It may dawn on you, as the film galumphs to its resolution, that in this world, these names are as fictional and insubstantial as anything else.