The 400-Word Review: Closed Circuit

By Sean Collier

September 3, 2013

Remember when you were the Hulk? That was forever ago.

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Closed Circuit, a British thriller from Irish-born director John Crowley, has a weighty message to convey about the treachery of surveillance and government intrusion. There’s a danger, though, that the moral will be lost in procedural trappings — or conspiratorial ramblings.

High-minded lawyer Martin (Eric Bana) is assigned by the crown to a thankless gig: he’ll be representing the sole suspect, and presumed mastermind, in the deadly bombing of a crowded London marketplace. Because state secrets are involved, a second barrister, Claudia (Rebecca Hall) is also on the case. The vagaries of the British legal system are involved, but in short: she’s the lawyer for the secret stuff, he’s the lawyer for the public stuff, and they’re not supposed to communicate. (Obviously, they’ve had an affair, because this is a movie.)

Troublingly, Martin is on the case because the previous advocate has died after a sudden bout of suicide-that-doesn’t-seem-like-suicide. As Martin and Claudia delve into the case, accompanied by endless monitoring and red tape, they discover exactly why their predecessor isn’t around anymore.


Closed Circuit is clearly a message movie: a parable about the potential hazards of handing unchecked power and unlimited discretion to government forces which are human and fallible. Screenwriter Steven Knight, known for underappreciated dramas like Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, crafts a fine illustration of the trouble that can arise from the sort of government supervision that’s currently grabbing headlines. (The film is nothing if not presciently well-timed.)

In action, though, Closed Circuit resembles a high-stakes legal procedural. With good acting and fine directing, that makes for an enjoyable and engaging film; it also invites passive audiences to dismiss the larger implications, however. To put it plainly, the astute viewer will see it as a message; the casual viewer will only see it as a pretty good story.

It also suffers slightly from a curious problem that also affected another recent political thriller, The East: If you make your boogeymen stark enough to be in a movie, they’re no longer realistic. The sinister machinations in Closed Circuit are starkly devilish; in the real world, evil tends to be more mundane. That doesn’t make much of a flick, though.

Besides these and some other minor complaints, though, Closed Circuit works as both a story and a message. Whether or not it wakes anyone to reality — clearly the goal — it delivers a good moral handsomely.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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