Review: Person of Interest 1×1

Batman without the cowl but with precognition

Person of Interest

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, CBS

Heroes have had a tendency to be laconic for quite some time now. History buffs will of course know that the word comes from ‘Lacedaemonia’, the very ancient Greek name for the equally ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, whose people were famously short on words, but when they said something, it was always pithy and usually involved fighting or killing people (the most famous “Laconic phrase”, “Μολὼν λαβέ” or “Come and get them”, is one of the mottos of the Greek First Army Corps and the United States Special Operations Command Central).

So heroes have been largely required to be short on words for a good few thousands years now. But can a hero be too laconic, I wonder?

I ask this purely because in Person of Interest, we have Jim Cavaziel playing a former US Army Ranger recruited to help prevent crimes before they happen by a clever, rich software engineer played by Michael Emerson (Linus in Lost). And our hero hardly says anything and when he does, he mumbles. I think we actually have a hero who’s way too laconic, here.

So first, if we have a lesson to take away from Person of Interest, it’s that heroes really shouldn’t mumble quite so much if they’re going to be laconic.

And if we can be uncharacteristically verbose and unlaconic and take away two lessons from Person of Interest, it’s that even if a script is pure cobblers, your entire set-up is completely implausible and you have a lead actor who’s largely inaudible and inexpressive, you can still have a relatively watchable TV show purely through less talk and more action.

How Spartan.

Here’s a trailer.

PERSON OF INTEREST stars Jim Caviezel, Emmy Award winner Michael Emerson and Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson in a crime thriller about a presumed dead former-CIA agent, Reese, who teams up with a mysterious billionaire, Finch, to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice. Reese’s special training in covert operations appeals to Finch, a software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes. Using state-of-the-art surveillance technology, the two work outside of the law, using Reese’s adept skills and Finch’s unlimited wealth to unravel the mystery of the “person of interest” and stop the crime before it happens. Reese’s actions draw the attention of the NYPD, including homicide detective Carter, and Fusco, a cop whom Reese uses to his advantage. With infinite crimes to investigate, Reese and Finch find that the right person, with the right information, at the right time, can change everything.

Is it any good?
Well, when you’ve got Michael Emerson in front of the camera and both JJ Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher and writer of The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Memento, The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel) behind the camera, you’re never going to have something that entirely sucks. And Person of Interest is actually surprisingly good.

But it’s still a show that would have us believe that the government’s pattern, voice and facial recognition system is sufficiently good that anyone walking down the street at any time can not only be identified and understood but the government would be discarding all kinds of useful information rather than handing it over to law enforcement. Or that the facial recognition system could hand over everyone’s social security numbers at the same time.

We also have to believe that one man, all by himself, is all that’s really needed to act on this useful information – and by useful, I mean he has a social security number of someone who might be important within the next week or so for some reason – and that no matter how many bad guys there are, he can take them down by himself.

So obviously complete cobblers and it doesn’t help that we have rationales for both Cavaziel’s and Emerson’s characters that are both tied into 9/11 and simiplistic – “we lost someone and couldn’t save them, so now we’re going to prevent crime by ourselves, rather than hand it over to the authorities or even join the police force ourselves.”

This is the kind of thing that works with superheroes (take a look at Nolan’s CV again – Cavaziel is basically playing Batman here, except this Bruce Wayne’s money comes from someone else) but not real people.

That ‘minor’ issue aside, there’s enough going on here to enjoy if you like ultraviolence. Cavaziel’s character isn’t just a slugger who twats people around and shoots them well, he’s smart, too. Neither he nor Emerson are especially likeable (they’re both gits, to be honest), but they’re both interesting to watch and there are surprises to be found in the script.

Violence when it comes is relatively well executed and shot, although again, when five or six guys have guns pointed at you, in the real world, you will get shot by one of them if you start doing fancy wristlocks on one of them, no matter how much you play around with the camera speed. Sorry.

As well as our slightly cypherous heroes, there are two cops, one chasing them (although she doesn’t know it), one blackmailed into working for them and while blackmailed one is slightly interesting, chasing one isn’t, so what we’re left with is essentially a slightly empty, slightly silly but well executed vigilante drama where everyone should be wearing capes and cowls but isn’t. If you watch it, you’ll mostly enjoy it and it’ll give you an adrenaline hit that might make you want to watch more. But it’s not something that you should go out of your way to watch…

…at the moment, at least. I’ll keep an eye on it for you.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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