Eddie Marsan is one of the great character actors of our time, always on the short list when you’re looking for Sherlock Holmes’ Scotland Yard foil, a psychotherapist villain for “Deadpool” to torture or just a face and voice that says “working class Brit.”
He steps into the spotlight with “Feedback,” a rare star vehicle and one in which he does not disappoint.
It’s a thriller in the “Talk Radio” or “Night Listener” mode, a mouthy chat show host who finds himself confronted with a life-or-death scenario after his station is taken over by armed thugs.
First time feature director Pedro C. Alonso may have a little trouble maintaining suspense and broadcast logic in this “talk or die” tale of threats, torture and the political climate in Europe and the U.S. at the moment. But he keeps just enough cards hidden to make the game interesting, and keeps his camera on Marsan, playing a man reeling from terror to turning the tables, self-sacrifice to self-preservation.
Marsan is Jarvis Dolan, host of “The Grim Reality” on DBO-FM, a popular British station with the poshest high-rise production studios in broadcast history.
We meet him as he’s being strong-armed (Anthony Head is the manager) into bringing back in his former co-host (Paul Anderson of “Peaky Blinders” and one of the Robert Downey “Sherlock” movies that co-starred Marsan). Jarvis is an outspoken liberal, a Brexit basher who knows his listeners tune in “to scream at their radio” and send him hate-tweets.
Heck, the guy was just KIDNAPPED by “fascists” who burned his car and left him with stitches. But the show must go on, right?
Just as he’s settling in to the isolated booth — having wished his fur-costumed daughter (Alana Boden) a good evening, having conferred with his engineers (Alexis Rodney, Ivana Baquero), something goes wrong. He’s forced to keep talking as his “staff” fails to play tapes, loop in calls and the like.
His staff is being held hostage, and the armed, masked thugs holding them are barking orders through his headphones.
“Follow our instructions, without any questions,” and “Don’t make us go in there, Dolan.”
During the real-time course of a broadcast, they do “go in there.” There’s violence, torture, excruciating “confessional” interviews and call-in segments.
The idea is that this truth teller in a “post-truth fascist” age, who calmly blasts “Russian interference” and “Brexit” with “Here are the facts, here is the truth,” has to shift towards “the truth is not objective.”
There’s a lot of violence in “Feedback,” and not just in the shrieking titular noise used to (at first) keep Dolan in line. Bargaining, knives at throats, bags over heads, sledgehammers are wielded and a vast array of grievances are aired.
It can’t stand up to scrutiny, as the connection between the kidnappers teeters and topples, the kidnappers keep confusingly switching back and forth from “live” to “tape delayed” segments as they ratchet up the pressure on Dolan to make him say what they want or ask the questions they demand.
The supporting characters are archetypes — the “aged punk” former co-host, the winsome daughter, the mouth-breathing psychopath and seemingly more rational (older) criminal calling the shots.
But Alonso keeps it moving, finds places to take his characters within the confines of a locked-down radio studio, makes the violence visceral and feeds us just enough twists to maintain interest.
And Eddie Marsan makes this radio thriller worth staying tuned into — his face giving away terror, rage, cunning and panic, often in the same scene. Some supporting players shrink when cast front and center. Not this one.
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Eddie Marsan, Ivana Baquero, Paul Anderson, Oliver Coopersmith, Anthony Head
Credits: Directed by Pedro C. Alonso, script by Pedro C. Alonso and Alberto Marini. A Blue Fox release.
Running time: 1:37