Friday, February 25, 2011


"I didn't forget everything"

Unknown is certainly a classic thriller/mystery tale, but it does lack the pulse pounding drive of Neeson's previous hit Taken. One complaint you will likely hear in reference to Unknown is that it uses too many cliches from the suspense genre, including amnesia, conspiracy and mistaken identity. However I often point out cliches are cliches because they work. Unknown may be somewhat predictable, subscribing to certain genre tropes, but in doing so does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie. An opinion my fellow critics at RT seem to disagree on, with the consensus settling on the term 'derivative' and an average score of 57%.

The premise of the movie is that Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) have just arrived in Berlin for a bio-tech conference. Unfortunately after arriving at the hotel Martin realizes he has left his briefcase at the airport. He quickly hails a cab to go back for it, and on the way is involved in a fairly major car accident, which leaves him in a coma for 4 days. Upon waking he discovers that someone else has assumed his identity and his wife appears to no longer know him.

Neeson, as is always the case, delivers a great performance throughout the movie, I like Neeson as a Bourne type character and I think he pulls it off very well. Diane Kruger was also perfectly cast as Gina, the young woman whom Martin enlists to aid him. The two actors have good chemistry together on screen, forming a kind of father, daughter dynamic. It adds a lot to the story when we really feel that Martin wants to protect Gina from the danger he has unwittingly put her in. Also of note is the appearance of Frank Langella in the movie. Langella has been taking smaller supporting roles in recent years, but even then he adds a level of class and depth to everything he does. Such is the case in Unknown. Of particular note is a scene between Langella's character Rodney Cole and Ernst Jurgen (played by the equally imposing Bruno Ganz). This scene, between these two great actors, is without doubt the strongest moment in the movie. I don't want to spoil the specifics of the scene, but you will definitely appreciate it when you see it. I have to give credit to Ganz, his performance in the movie is outstanding, everything from the way he carries himself to the subtle expressions on his face builds his character and is a real joy to watch.

Less convincing was January Jones. I have to admit that I don't watch, nor have I ever watched, Mad Men so I really have no basis for comparison, but based solely on Unknown I am not particularly enthralled with her acting ability. As a side note, now that I have seen her on screen I think she is far to old to be a convincing Emma Frost in the new X-Men movie. Anyway, she only plays a small part in this movie, but her character seems rather bland, I think perhaps the movie would have worked just as well without her. Elizabeth Harris just doesn't contribute all that much to the story. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on her because of her involvement with X-Men: First Class, which I have publicly denounced to anyone who will listen, but I just felt that she was... kinda wooden.

This movie is a much slower paced affair than either Bourne or Taken, which it is being compared to by the studio. This isn't a bad thing though, in the case of this movie a slower pace works much better. I just think that it might be a mistake of the studio to compare Unknown to more action packed and adrenaline fueled capers. If they had tried to film this one at the same breakneck pace of Taken, it would probably have been over in 40 minutes. The hook in Unknown is the mystery. It's easy to engage with the character of Martin Harris when the audience is learning things at the same time he is.

I thought it played out very well, the screenplay felt real, the on-location settings were terrific and the action sequences were suitably exciting without diving into the realm of popcorn-action. If I have one complaint it's that, not unlike Taken, the ending is a little too convenient (again I don't want to spoil it, I imagine you will understand if/when you see it), but that does seem to the trend set by Hollywood these days, so I suppose we just have to roll with it.

Final Verdict on Unknown:   

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