'Unknown' (dir: Jaume Collet-Serra, 2011), Cert: 12A
From the poster, Liam Neeson’s latest looks like a sequel to his ultra-brutal 2008 sleeper hit ‘Taken’ but actually it’s quite the opposite. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (‘Orphan’ (2009)) brings us ‘Unknown’; a psychological thriller set in the hauntingly beautiful Berlin. Also starring alongside Neeson is January Jones (‘Mad Men’) and Diane Kruger (‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)).
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife Liz (Jones) arrive in Berlin. Harris is a bio-scientist and has come to Germany to read a paper at an international biotechnology conference. After forgetting a suitcase at the airport, Harris jumps into a taxi to collect it. During the journey an accident ensues causing the taxi to fall off a bridge and leave Harris in a brief coma. Once awake, Harris desperately searches for his wife but what he finds out is more shocking than he can believe. She doesn’t know who he is and a mysterious stranger has seemed to of taken his identity. He finds Gina (Kruger); the taxi driver who crashed and they team up to discover the truth. Now Harris must fight for his identity, his wife and defy all the odds that are against him.
‘Unknown’ is another picture to suffer from its trailer which pretty much gives you the entire plot. I’m sure most viewers could work out the majority of the movie just from those 2 minutes. The plot is also pretty common nowadays so not much is really in this film’s favour prior to watching.
Visually, it’s impressive; the harsh snow-washed streets of Berlin provide a dank and claustrophobic exterior, its dark shadowing, deprived buildings and graffiti-smothered subways give this film a really European feel in tone, not just location. It has the credentials of a French or German arthouse film. Collet-Serra also uses meticulous direction to wrap the audience up in the drama and tension which works well and rubs off on the viewer.
|Still from 'Unknown' (dir: Jaume Collet-Serra, 2011)|
For the first 70 minutes, this is a really solid thriller that’s engaging, progressive and atmospheric; the action is exciting, the dialogue is well-paced and Neeson’s gravel-toned voice compliments his estranged character perfectly, but after that it seems to lose its bearings. Rather than allowing the final act to be explosive and nerve-shredding, its jumps way out of line and goes from being smart to overly-ambitious and sadly it loses the plot. Rather than wrapping things up, it leaves more questions unanswered and creates unnecessary plot holes.
There is no denying that ‘Unknown’ is a good picture; it has plenty to keep you immersed and its performances are very good, but it’s a real shame about its last 25 minutes. This film was adapted from a novel so maybe the book ends this way, and if so I can’t fault the screenplay, but it just didn’t translate to screen very well. Identity films are a tricky one; some succeed and when they do, they are brilliant like the ‘Bourne’ trilogy, but some fall flat at the last hurdle. I wouldn’t say ‘Unknown’ falls like a ton of bricks; it’s more like a trip when stepping up onto a curb.
As I said earlier, the cast work their roles well. Neeson is perfect as Harris; he’s completely in his comfort zone here and plays the down-trodden and lonely man like a natural. Kruger and Jones provide impressive support and it’s nice to see their careers blossoming. Also Frank Langella makes a brief appearance which doesn’t do that much but never mind.
If you’re looking for a thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat then ‘Unknown’ is a good choice, but I can’t help but worry that some people will be a bit disappointed overall.
Tough, exciting and interesting, but its trailing narrative causes the final act to be rather silly.
By Chris Haydon