Sunday, 25 September 2011

Review: PERSON OF INTEREST, 1.1 - "Pilot"

Sunday, 25 September 2011
written by Jonathan Nolan; directed by David Semel
starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Taraji P. Henson & Kevin Chapman

I'm not a fan of Jim Caviezel (The Passion Of The Christ), who feels miscast in this new CBS crime drama, playing a former government agent in a world of high-tech surveillance, just ike he did in the recent flop remake of The Prisoner. Caviezel plays John Reese (a hybrid of John Connor and Kyle Reese, seeing as writer-creator Jonathan Nolan script-doctored Terminator Salvation?), a CIA agent who's seen and done terrible things for his country and now wanders the streets of New York City with a thousand-yard stare and tousled beard. He's recruited by billionaire Mr Finch (Lost's Michael Emerson), a software engineer who created a surveillance program for the government after 9/11 with the unexpected by-product of predicting perpetrators/victims of violent crimes. Now Finch wants to use his program to stop felonies before they happen on the mean streets of the Big Apple, with John's expertise out in the field...

The premise is something best-suited to a sci-fi drama set in the near-future, but comes across as bunkum as a present-day concern. So what, unthinking cameras and software can somehow predict people's thoughts and behaviour, discerning motivations for crimes simply by watching people on CCTV? Emerson, in his first post-Lost role, doesn't stray too far from the role of Ben Linus, only this time there's little doubt Finch is a good guy, which undermines much of what was always so compelling about Emerson's manipulative character on that castaway drama. Emerson's not exactly playing Ben, then, but executive-producer JJ Abrams knows how mesmerizing Emerson's cadence and expressions can be, so he lifts a thin character off the page. I'm hoping Mr Finch does more than give cryptic speeches under bridges and click a mouse on a computer screen from their base of operations.

Despite its silly premise, the intention for a Minority Report-esque crime drama, where two vigilantes (both believed to be dead by the government) stop crime before it's even happened, is undoubtedly very interesting—especially for a network like CBS, which is full of less imaginative procedural shows. Unfortunately, the big problem here is that Caviezel showed up for work under the mistaken belief that mumbling dialogue is the best way to show John's mental fragility. Instead, he makes his hero so laconic he's detached and boring. After the pilot, you find yourself running through a dozen or so leading men who could have given this character some added dynamism. I can only hope Caviezel's character is on a journey and will put aside some of that grouchiness in the episodes to come, or CBS will wisely drop creator Jonathan Nolan a note about ensuring Caviezel shows some range, or a few extra facial expressions at the very least.

Speaking of Nolan, as the brother of one of the world's most successful movie directors, who himself has written some of his sibling's films (The Prestige, The Dark Knight), I was most excited about Person Of Interest because of his involvement. And his pilot certainly had some cinematic traits and similarities to the current Batman saga. John and Finch are almost an amalgam of millionaire Bruce Wayne; one bringing brawn and experience, the other brains and money. John even starts the episode looking like the bearded Christian Bale when Gotham's playboy was wandering the world looking for answers in Tibet.

Overall, I enjoyed Person Of Interest and liked how this pilot panned out, but it was also a disappointment given its pedigree in front and behind the camera. I'm just interested to see where it goes. I'm not convinced a crime-of-the-week vigilante procedural is going to be something I'll make appointment viewing, even with Emerson's involvement, but the show has some promise and the pilot left some intriguing questions flapping in the breeze: what happened to John to turn him into a hobo? Why are John and Finch both presumed dead? Why don't the US government use Finch's software to this same end? Are people who don't have a social security number for the machine to spit out beyond Finch's grasp? And why did the brilliant William Sadler appear for such a minor and seemingly pointless role?

22 September 2011 / CBS