Morality and justice share an interesting relationship. I’m fascinated by the boundaries between the two because they often leave a lot of room for ambiguity, both in real life and fictional work. Film is a wonderful medium to explore such issues, and Feedback is a fantastic demonstration of this blurred spectrum. How far should people go in order to bring about fair justice? Does a flawed societal system lead to the corruption of a person’s morality?
Pedro C. Alonso made his directorial debut with this rather violent 2019 thriller set in a London radio station. Eddie Marsan stars as the experienced radio host, Jarvis Dolan, who swaggers around his surroundings with an aura of pomposity. Marsan has accumulated a very impressive filmography over the years, from Mission Impossible III to Deadpool 2, but this is one of those rare occasions where he is the leading man. His typically corporate boss, played by Anthony Head, wants to push Dolan back into a show with his old radio colleague Andrew (Paul Anderson), in an attempt to boost ratings—but Dolan seems reluctant.
You can practically feel Dolan’s anxiety when he’s around Andrew. Anderson’s happy-go-lucky character is quite the contrast to our lead: loud, overbearing and a little too chirpy. On that level alone, one can sympathise with Dolan’s trepidation at hosting a live radio show with his apparent long lost friend. Dolan isn’t instantly dislikeable, perhaps resembling many of us who are going through the motions with our daily routines, but his infatuation for power is quite evident. Early on, our leading character approaches an admirer of his daughter and gives him a stern word of caution. Is he simply being a protective parent, or does he feel it necessary to assert his authority wherever he sees fit? It’s difficult to tell. Anyway, Dolan goes to present his political show, with the intention of talking about a recent attack that he has suffered from Brexit extremists. There are shades of James O’Brien as he seeks to vent about Brexiteers and Vote Leave but, of course, things don’t go according to plan.
While the angry political commentary would have been entertaining enough, Dolan is taken aback when his show is hijacked by masked hooligans who are intent on changing the direction of this discussion. However, it isn’t Nigel Farage and Dominic Cummings behind the creepy facial disguises—what a plot twist that would have been—and the question of leaving the European Union quickly becomes a distant memory. If the prospect of breaking away from the single market terrifies Dolan, then he’s about to get one hell of a fright.
Brexit does not drive the film’s narrative, but it does act as a symbol for the lack of transparency over what is right and wrong. Brexit dominated discussion in Britain for many years—our pre-pandemic ones, at least—and everybody had an opinion on it. The film strives to show us, however, that morally speaking things are never as clear-cut as they seem. The way a person voted during that referendum does not define them; a Remain voter is not automatically more ethical than a Leave voter.
The film doesn’t serve as a propaganda piece in favour of Brexit, but it does critique the hierarchical tribalism that it seems to have caused. Elitism, Alonso seems to be saying, is rife throughout society, and when certain groups feel that their voices aren’t being heard, tensions can reach breaking point. In Feedback, those tensions erupt into classic cinematic violence and horror.
Just like The Purge and The Strangers, Feedback creates genuine terror with its use of face masks and tight interior spaces. Alonso frequently keeps certain elements hidden behind the proverbial curtain; we never understand everything that is going on, but we’re always seeking to learn as the narrative unfolds. Feedback meanders between several unknowns, shifting from the literal unknown of the attackers faces, to the real reasoning behind their actions, to the question of whether those reasons are in any way legitimate—always affirming a certain level of conceit over the viewer.
The film’s conclusion will be unsatisfying for many, but it serves as a frank reminder of the world that we live in, or maybe the world that we used to live in. It illustrates a dichotomy between ordinary people who strive for justice, and those who avoid it because of their privileged societal position. Then again, movements such as #MeToo have flipped this narrative on its head, with justice being served in broad daylight.
One might read the resolution of Feedback as an unnecessary nod to the sovereign power of corporate overlords. Alternatively, it could be a critique of a capitalist regime that heavily relies on who you know as opposed to what you know. What isn’t up for debate is that sour taste in the mouth, when you recognise that accountability has been avoided.
Words by Jonny Bentley
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