Friday, September 23, 2011

Pilot Review: Person of Interest

Person of Interest (Thursdays at 9:00 on CBS)

There's actually not much "of interest" in CBS's Person of Interest. The cast is of interest. The production crew is of interest. But not much on screen is of interest.

We are introduced to a homeless man on a subway in New York, Reese (Jim Caviezel), who dispatches of a group of teenage douchebags and is then brought to the police. The lead detective (Taraji P. Henson, totally wasted in the pilot) questions him before he disappears to meet a mysterious stranger, Finch (Michael Emerson). Finch offers Reese the chance to atone for past wrongs by saving people whose social security numbers he receives daily, spit out of some machine he built to help prevent "another 9/11."

The core concept is interesting. How the machine works, exactly what information it uses, etc., is an interesting concept. But it was done better and more convincingly ten years ago in Minority Report. But whereas that movie was stylishly filmed and edited, Person of Interest is choppy. Intercut with nearly every scene change are pointless views of random city streets from security cameras, cell phones, and traffic cams. It obviously adds to the series' paranoid feeling, but it did nothing to advance the story. The rest of the show's look is pretty drab, with the scenes in New York matted with a flat gray color. At its heart this is a story of redemption, so I would expect it to be dark, but dark doesn't have to mean drab. The pacing is all off as well; the first fifteen minutes are an introduction to Reese, but we still now next to nothing about him. The subway scene is merely an excuse for fight choreography. Finch could have easily gotten a hold of Reese in any way he wanted, so the whole setup was unnecessary except as a plot device to introduce Henson's police officer and get Reese on the cops' radar. That's lazy storytelling right there.

I just can't understand how such a great pedigree both on and off screen could produce such mediocre results. Person of Interest was created and written by Jonathan Nolan, an Oscar nominee for writing Memento with his brother, with whom he also wrote The Prestige and The Dark Knight. Perhaps he needs Christopher's eye to transform his screenplays into something better, a task director David Semel (Heroes, No Ordinary Family) is oddly not up to. Executive producer J.J. Abrams's presence is not felt in the slightest; his customary sense of oddity and slight touches of science fiction are missing totally from Person of Interest, unless there's some strange inhuman element to Finch's machine. This episode could've used a sense of greater mystery, because the characters themselves are not at all interesting. Michael Emerson is just continuing the same performance he gave on Lost, and I'm not sure Jim Caviezel even realizes he's supposed to be giving a performance. He's wooden and totally dull, bringing nothing but vacancy to Reese (that, and an awkwardly stitled line reading, which thankfully disappears in the second half-hour). And like I said earlier, Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is completely wasted in what is basically a cameo in this episode.

I guess I just expected more. I expected more mythology, but there was no real attempt to delve into any questions yet; instead it was just a standard, crime-of-the-week procedural. I expected more excitement, but a lot of the action was pointless. I expected something better from talent of this caliber, but with this first episode I'm very disappointed.

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