The pedigree for CBS's new "Person of Interest" sets it up for some high expectations: Creator Jonathan Nolan wrote "The Dark Knight," executive producer JJ Abrams and star Michael Emerson are drawn from the world of "Lost," and Jim Cavieziel used to be Jesus.
You can see how it would be hard to measure up. But the show does, for the most part, by injecting unusual wit into what could have been a series of crime-show clichés.
While it can't be expected to boast Batman-style production values, it does set a cinematic tone that recalls "The Dark Knight," the "Bourne" movies, and "Dirty Harry."
At least, I think it’s Clint Eastwood that Jim Cavieziel is gamely channeling when he grumblingly explains to various bad guys that “I don’t have any friends,” breaks the occasional nose, and shoots people in the legs.
The set-up is that Caviezel’s dark but not overly stolid John Reese is an embittered ex-solider trained to kill and snoop by the C.I.A. But after losing his girlfriend (seen in flashbacks during a strainingly romantic Mexican hotel idyll) to unnamed bad guys, he’s basically a drunk headed for the streets. In the opening scenes, a group of wanna-be-bad boys accost him on a subway and try to grab his hooch.
How do you suppose that works out for them?
We quickly meet Henson’s detective character in the station house, where she snorts contemptuously at the battered hoods and says, "I’ll need a statement from the bum." It’s a bit worrying, at first, to see the lovely Henson playing what could be a stereotypical "dese" and "dose" Gotham cop. But in a few sentences she earns respect from Reese and our eagerness to watch the two play cat and mouse more soon.
Reese is quickly sprung by the cryptic Mr. Finch, played by the skilled Michael Emerson with all the snoot of that head waiter who implies that a 40-minute wait for your table is somehow your own fault. The former Benjamin Linus is a master of delivering intriguing but vaguely menacing statements, and doesn't disappoint.
"You need a purpose," he rightly tells Reese. "More specifically, you need a job."
Finch has a computer program that allows him to predict persons of interest in upcoming problems — but he can't tell whether they are victims, criminals, or witnesses. So Reese is enlisted to figure it out.
Seemingly minutes and one very large shipment from L.L. Bean later, Reese is on the street snuffin’ creeps, albeit with a faint air of regret.
All the proper tropes for an ex-special forces antihero are in place, including the torturous flashbacks, the never-miss head shots, and the defiant wit when someone is about to hit him with a rifle butt. Asked who he is, he asks back, “A concerned third party?”
It’s a callback of a line used by Finch, but, more importantly, reminds us that this is a show able to tweak clichés — especially those of gritty TV procedurals. Reese surveils not from the usual drab rooftops but from architectural marvels, and it’s all shot with a desaturated look.
Joining in the dese- and dose-ing is Kevin Chapman as Lionel Fusco, the schleppy but good-hearted cop who clearly is going to be regularly schooled by his ad hoc boss, Reese. When he asks if a certain character is in witness protection, Reese says, "No Lionel, he’s in the trunk." It's funny because it's true.