By David Watson

Rather predictably director John Crowley’s anti-thriller Closed Circuit opens with a series of anonymous, static CCTV views multiplying until they fill our vision, each piece of footage depicting a busy Borough Market, a gabble of voices (So these CCTV cameras have audio?  I don’t think they do…) – shoppers, families, market traders – mixing with the hustle and bustle of the market, the incessant warning beep of a reversing lorry ominously cutting through them all before it explodes, causing massive (and unseen) carnage.

Conveniently, the Plod quickly arrest suspected terror cell leader Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), the alleged mastermind behind the attack.  Inconveniently, and unusually for Scotland Yard’s finest, they take him alive which means a complex and costly trial.  After his defence barrister mysteriously tops himself, the job falls to smug, arrogant, rowing enthusiast Martin Rose (Eric Bana employing the same dodgy Mid Atlantic accent he used in Troy).  Due to the complex nature of the case and the fact that part of it will take place in a closed session where sensitive, top secret evidence will be presented, Farroukh’s also represented by Special Advocate and gently smouldering ice queen Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall).

Contact between the two legal eagles is expressly forbidden; they’re banned from discussing the case, sharing evidence or coordinating their defence.  Just to further complicate matters, Martin and Claudia are more than familiar with each others’ briefs after a disastrous affair that ended Martin’s marriage.  Cue lots of furtive meetings and pay-as-you-go phone tag when they smell a rat and launch their own investigation into the case that suggests Farroukh may be a hapless patsy, an MI5 agent provocateur being hung out to dry after an operation that went tragically wrong.  But the closer Martin and Claudia get to the truth, it becomes clear that elements within the security services will stop at nothing, including murder, to ensure a guilty verdict…

A conspiracy thriller that lacks thrills, suspense and any real mystery about who’s conspiring against the heroes, Closed Circuit’s an uneasy melange of sub-Le Carre spookery, stiff courtroom drama and whatever else screenwriter Steven Knight’s happened to watch on telly while writing the script.  It would dearly love to be Defence Of The Realm but lacks the intelligence and dark, insidious atmosphere of paranoia that made that film so compelling.  The more action-based thrills of films like Enemy Of The State or Eagle Eye which also deal with the pervasive dangers of the Big Brother-style surveillance state alluded to by Closed Circuit’s title and opening scene are largely absent too, forgotten but for the occasional flat CCTV image or a random ominous shot of an unblinking camera lens while Julia Stiles’ disposable journalist who pops up for a scene or two seems to have wandered through the shoot on her way to an Alan J. Pakula film (All The President’s Men, The Parallax View).  And as courtroom dramas go, it’s more My Cousin Vinny than …And Justice For All (“You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”).

Crowley’s direction is flat and uninspiring, less cinematic than an episode of Spooks, and Closed Circuit feels better suited to the midweek ITV post-watershed slot recently vacated by Whitechapel while Knight (writer of Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, Hummingbird and, ahem, Peaky Blinders) displays his usual tin ear for dialogue and fills his script with a cast of characters who run the gamut from douchebag to prick by way of ice queen.

The film is woefully miscast – Bana’s smug, ambitious lawyer cruising for a bruising seems to have been Xeroxed from Richard Gere in Primal Fear and he’s never silkily self-absorbed enough to really pull him off, Toby Stephens would have been a far better fit, Jim Broadbent’s painfully non-threatening as the sinisterly hale, hearty and manipulative Attorney General while Anne-Marie Duff is merely painful as MI5’s very own Lady Macbeth.  Even the normally wonderful Rebecca Hall seems to be merely going through the motions, functioning on autopilot, with only Four Lions and Ill Manors’ Riz Ahmed really acquitting himself as a slickly malevolent MI5 spook.

While it’s refreshingly cynical and downbeat, Closed Circuit is po-faced, drearily unconvincing and derivatively provocative, borrowing all its best beats from the last 40 years of conspiracy thrillers.  Save your money, stay home and watch The Conversation, Defence Of The Realm and Z back-to-back on DVD.

VERDICT: [rating=2]

About The Author