DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell • PRO: Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver • DOP: Flavio Martínez Labiano • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Richard Bridgland • Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones
The problem with films that rely on plot-twists is that the audience is already second-guessing everything they see, trying to work out the surprise ending before its properly revealed. This usually results in one of the three following outcomes: (1) the ending is so obvious that everyone guesses it within the first ten minutes. See: Hide and Seek. (2) the ending is so good that it will leave you blabbering on about it for hours, if not weeks, after the movie has finished. See: Se7en. (3) the ending is a total cheat because there was absolutely no way that you could’ve guessed it, and it doesn’t make a lick of sense anyways. See: Switchblade Romance. Unfortunately for Unknown, it falls firmly into this third category.
After Taken, Liam Neeson seems to be suffering from some kind of cinematic mid-life crisis, as once again Oskar Schindler is running around a major European city, kicking ass and taking names. Here he plays Dr. Martin Harris, who after a nasty car crash, wakes from a coma to discover his wife (January Jones, beautiful but with all the acting ability of a fax machine) doesn’t recognise him, and another man (Aidan Quinn, keeping up the Irish contingent) claiming to be the real Dr. Harris. So Neeson sets out to prove he’s not crazy, and try to find out why his life has been taken from him.
It doesn’t help that so much of the plot relies so heavily on contrivance. The car-crash that kick-starts the plot only happens because Neeson just happened to forget his briefcase at the airport. In the taxi back to the airport, his taxi just happened to be behind a rogue, falling refrigerator. (Yes, you read that right.) And said taxi just happened to be driven by an illegal immigrant (Diane Kruger, and if this is what an average Berlin taxi driver looks like, consider me booked on the next flight there), who can’t go to the police for fear of being deported. All these coincidences happen in the first ten minutes of the film, and they don’t stop there.
If only the film hadn’t taken itself so seriously, then perhaps it could’ve been a good slice of cheap fun. Director Jaume Collet-Serra previously directed Orphan, which was equally ridiculous and happened to have a perfectly-pitched twist ending. But here everything is given the po-faced treatment, with Neeson twisting himself into bitter anguish instead of having the kind of reckless fun he had in Taken. Add into this the appearance of acting heavyweights like Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz, and you know that they have aimed to make a serious A-movie out of trashy B-movie material.
But it’s not all bad; even when he’s slumming it Neeson is still the best thing in everything he’s ever done, the snowy streets of Berlin really add to the sense of foreboding paranoia, there’s a spectacular extended car-chase that’ll get the pulses racing, and for the last ten minutes the film does finally succumb to the giddy, tacky highs it should’ve been hitting throughout. However, once that twist is finally revealed, some of the smaller plot-holes you may have noticed earlier will disappear, only to be replaced by big massive canyons in logic. Prepare to be infuriated. Entertained, but infuriated.
IFCO website for details)
Unknown is released on 4th March 2011