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.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
is released on 4th March 2011

Unknown – Official Website


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One Reply to “Unknown”

  1. Unknown is a film which deals with the issue of identity, or lack of identity to be correct. Dr. Martin Harris(Liam Neeson) awakes from a coma after an accident to find that all is not what it seems to be. Firstly, he finds that his identity has been stolen along with his wife. And to make matters worse he is being pursued by a gang of mysterious assassins who are trying to impede Neeson on his quest for the “truth”. But he quickly teams up with the taxi driver(Dianne Kruger) who drove him off a bridge which caused his amnesia and an over stereotypical ex Stasi officer (Bruno Ganz). The motley crew then join forces to battle evil, I mean take down the conspiracy which they now find themselves entangled in.

    On first glance Unknown seems to be nothing more than the sequel to Taken, a film where Liam Neeson trekked around Paris trying to uncover some major plot. Substitute Berlin for Paris and this might be right. Both films are dull impact less Euro-Thrillers where the only interesting aspect is the architecture of the surrounding cityscape’s. It also must be said that Liam Neeson plays identical roles in both films. This role being the stiff, emotionless action hero with a dodgy accent. Don’t get me wrong, he played a great role in “Five minutes of heaven” where he played a reformed UVF soldier trying to makes amens with the brother of nationalist he killed as a young man. This just goes to show that Neeson has a niche which he should stick to. And this niche most certainly includes Irish characters as he is unable to disguise his rough Irish accent.

    What Unknown has going for it is a series of interesting shots and camera angles which offer the audience a unique viewpoint and insight into the perspective of the central character. But this, in my opinion, is the only positive aspect of this film. Unknown is a by the book Hollywood action film with explosions, gun fights and not one but two over the top car chases which are long winded and dragged out. There is even a cheesy line or two from the characters such as; “I still remember how to kill you asshole”.

    To sum it up, the film is a series of twists and turns each one less interesting than the last. This film lacks direction overall to the extinct where the concluding big twist is impact less. This combined with the monotonous character played by Liam Neeson results in a bland and uninspiring film. But then again what else would you expect from the director who brought us “great” films such as “Goal 2” and the remake of “House of Wax”. What I have to say is that I have studied film narrative in college. I watched this film with 3 friends who have not. They thoroughly enjoyed this film. Which leads me to the conclusion that Unknown is a Hollywood blockbuster, and nothing more. A film made to entertain mass audiences and generate profit. So if you are looking for a piece of cheap entertainment i would recommend this film. Otherwise, I would not. I give this film a generous 4/10.

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