By Joan Ellis
Far too much time has passed since the Brits have challenged us with one of the spy thrillers they do so well.
The good news is that Closed Circuit is here, wrapped in suspense and inviting us to listen carefully. If you have been wading through the summer menus at the multiplex, you may be relieved to hear there are no robots, vampires or aliens in Closed Circuit.
What we have instead is a good story with interesting characters. The opening scenes offer confusing snatches of conversation in a London street market as they are recorded by ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras that drop us immediately into an environment of topical surveillance. Just as we are wondering what life will be like without privacy, a truck drives into the outdoor market and explodes.
After a suspect is arrested and accused of the bombing, we are introduced to his defenders in a rather unfathomable system devised for the British courts in this era of terrorist trials. Martin Rose (Eric Bana) will represent the accused in the public trial. As special defense advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) will represent him in a private hearing that is designed to prevent public release of any information that might affect British national security. Sound familiar?
The court prohibits any contact between the two lawyers lest Rose, the defender learn top-secret information from Simmons-Howe, the advocate.
This provides a lovely twist since the two are former lovers now thrown together again as legal allies. Bana and Hall, one or the other or both, are on screen nearly full time which is just fine because together or separately each is a compelling figure in the fast moving story. A salute goes also to Jim Broadbent as the inscrutable attorney general who guides Martin through the defense process. And let’s toast the writers whose careful crafting of a villain adds to our discomfort in an era when bad people aren’t always bad and good ones might or might not be conspirators.
Meanwhile, we watch in bemused concentration wondering why the man in the truck was blown up, who is pulling the conspiratorial strings and when Claudia and Martin will rekindle their fire.
Director John Crowley and screenwriter Steve Knight spring at least three unexpected surprises and then leave us sunk in suspense as we wait for the fourth. Because the pace is so fast, not all of these good puzzles are resolved to the collective satisfaction, but it was good fun once again to think about national dilemmas and double agents.
Perhaps most intriguingly, this movie marks a neat transition from Old World spy stories to spying in the machine age. The questions from now forward will deal with secrecy, courts, collusion and electronic surveillance. In a world where wars are fought not by nations but by scattered terrorists, the nature of spy thrillers is changing quickly. The question: who now is spying on the spy?
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.