Cool to the point of being ice-cold, the British thriller "Closed Circuit" moves cleverly by stealth where a comparable American movie might barge in with brute force.
The title refers to the web of closed-circuit cameras that capture movement on nearly every public space in London. It's these cameras that capture, from every conceivable angle, a terrorist bombing at a busy open-air market that kills 120 people. But the cameras won't be allowed in one particular location: the courtroom where the last surviving bombing suspect, Turkish national Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), will be tried in a secret proceeding with classified material as evidence.
When Erdogan's lawyer dies of an apparent suicide, the case falls to his colleague, defense attorney Martin Rose (Eric Bana). But Martin won't be in court for the closed part of the trial. That job falls to a court-appointed special advocate, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), who is allowed to see the secret evidence but cannot divulge it to Martin. Claudia and Martin take these roles without telling any of the court officials that they once had an affair.
As Martin digs into the case, he realizes there's more to the bombing than anyone is letting on. With a hint from an American journalist (Julia Stiles), and some subtle interference from the attorney general (Jim Broadbent), Martin starts to piece together a scenario that, if proved true in court, could bring down the British intelligence apparatus a scenario Martin's predecessor figured out before his now not-so-suicidal death.
The archly written screenplay, by Steven Knight ("Eastern Promises"), neatly mixes courtroom drama with cloak-and-dagger chills, bringing the viewer along as Martin and Claudia are drawn deeper into what seems to be a conspiracy. Knight also throws in plenty of intriguing plot twists and prompts some uncomfortable questions about what governments do secretly in the name of security.
Director John Crowley ("Boy A") sets Knight's potboiler on a low simmer, pulling understated performances by his cast. This works well for Hall (recently seen in "Iron Man 3"), who's good at steely gazes, but not so much for the bland Bana.
Crowley gets his best mileage out of Broadbent, an actor usually employed for broad performances (e.g., Prof. Horace Slughorn in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"). But here he oozes quiet menace with every veiled threat. More than anyone else, Broadbent embodies the cool professionalism and reserved chills that "Closed Circuit" delivers.
Lawyers get involved in a terrorist case, and spy intrigue, in this low-key British thriller.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Wednesday, August 28.
Rating • R for language and brief violence.
Running time • 96 minutes.