A lot of people are talking about how awesome Unknown is… but do they know what they are talking about. While the full movie is better than a lot of the Hollywood stuff that you can watch right now, that’s not saying much. Perhaps these people, who have been piling on loads of Hollywood stuff over the last year, have forgotten what an actual good movie is. Unknown is certainly one of these films. Sure, it’s an entertaining flick, but it’s little more than that, a thoughtless diversion dabbling in thriller clichés and twists that are predictable.
In the film, everyone’s favorite old dude, Liam Neeson, plays Dr. Martin Harris. He and his wife are traveling to Germany to attend a free biotech summit. While they are checking into their hotel, The doctor seems to have forgotten something, so he hops in a cab, without telling his wife where they are going. The taxi he is in wrecks, and Marin winds up in a coma. When he awakens, he has no proof of who he is, and when he makes his way back to his hotel, he sees his wife, who looks at him like he is an alien from outer space. Then he meets someone else proclaiming theirself the real Martin Harris. Now Neeson’s character must figure out exactly what is going on. This leads to loads of research online, tons of flashbacks, and a clichéd ending that most people will see coming from a mile away. It’s not bad, but it isn’t anything special…
The Surprising Plot Keeps You Guessing
Director Jaume Collet-Serra might be the best man for this job. Collet-Serra made his big-screen debut as the director of the atrocious House of Wax. He then followed that up with the surprisingly effective Orphan. While these Hollywood horror flicks were by no means anything special, it’s Collet-Serra’s fault that the same fate awaits Unknown. Collet-Serra fails to do two things which prevent this movie from being great. First off, he fails to create a solid context for the movie to take place in. Here we are in Berlin, and it could have been in a small town in the middle of winter. The backgrounds and locales simply don’t pop, which leads us to watch the film’s marginally interesting characters to the point that they cease to be interesting.
The second thing that Collet-Serra have to do is provide the audience with the thriller part. Sure there are car chases and murders, but none of them feel particularly impressive. One car chase in particular had me laughing out loud. You can find online the scene in question, Martin Harris is trying to escape a gun-wielding SUV driver in a beat up early ’80-s taxi cab. There is a moment where Harris flips the wheel and speeds off in reverse, while the SUV chases after so that Martin and the guy in the SUV are watching each other in the eye. Not only does this “super-assassin” fail to shoot our hero in the face, but this mid-‘80s taxi cab outruns this modern SUV… in reverse! It’s little details like this which keep Unknown from being better than it is, but at least it’s available for free.
The film features a sharp cast of people who could probably do better. Part of it is the writing, because the characters are all interesting and charismatic. The biggest reason to watch this film is because Liam Neeson is in it. Put a different actor in the role, someone like Gerard Butler, and it won’t be the same. Diane Kruger plays Neeson’s love-interest… who just happens to be 24 years younger than Neeson. Needless to say, their relationship is bewildering at times. January Jones, who plays the wife of Martin Harris is two years younger than Kruger… Jones and Kruger are alright for their parts, but as far as realism goes, the Neeson/young girl dynamic simply doesn’t work. Bruno Ganz is the only other person of note in the film. Ganz plays a crusty old detective, and he steals the show in the scenes that he is in.
Overall, Unknown could use some philosophical revisals. Perhaps making the cast more age appropriate and providing real action scenes that work effectively rather than pull you out. As it is now, Unknown is a by-the-numbers thriller buoyed by another solid performance from Neeson. It’s not going to break any molds, but such is the thriller landscape.
This one could have been better. It was entertaining, but nothing to write home about. Give it a look when it comes out online.