IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME:113 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera,
Upon arriving in Berlin, Dr. Martin Harris and his wire Liz go to check into a hotel. As they are entering, Martin rushes off in a cab back to the airport to retrieve his briefcase which he left there. Along the way he’S involved in a road accident and passes out. Awaking in a hospital four days later with a headache, he rushes back to the hotel, but nobody seems to know who he is, including even his wife. Not only that, but she’s accompanied by another Martin Harris! He tracks down Gina, who saved his life at the accident, but she doesn’t want to tell him what she knows, while men seem to be following him….
I’m going to admit straightaway – I loved Taken. A tough-as-nails Liam Neeson tearing around Paris as he searches for his kidnapped daughter? well, it wasn’t great cinematic art, but it was great action entertainment. Unknown seems to come with the impression that it’s more of the same, but that’s not really true. lthough it has a tough-as-nails Neeson tearing around another city, Berlin, and certainly does have action, Unknown is a rather more sober and plot-centred affair. It’s sort of a cross between Frantic and The Bourne Identity, or maybe Total Recall and Flightplan, and I’m told it’s also very similar to a short lived TV series called Nowhere Man. Therefore you could probably say it’s cobbled together from various other sources. Few movies are entirely original these days though, and lack of originality certainly doesn’t stop a film from being enjoyable. Unknown certainly is enjoyable – well, as long as you don’t expect another Taken.
We dispense with the usual slow build up and get underway almost immediately with the very sudden and quite shocking car crash which sets things in motion. When Neeson’s character Martin leaves hospital and goes back into the hotel he left, only to find nobody recognises him, there’s quite a strong feeling of dislocation and paranoia. Neeson convincingly conveys panic and despair, and things really seem to be hitting up to be a cracking thriller. After a while the action starts to come in, with some brief but effective brawls and a really good car chase. Now it’s really hard these days to come up with originality in a car chase, because almost everything’s been done before, but Unknown has a section of its chase where both care are being driven in reverse, causing much havoc in the city as they do so. Now I say this was a really good car chase, but should have been excellent. It’s not though. You know why? Because it’s cut, like so many action scenes these days, to within an inch of its life. You know what I’m talking about; shots that last one second and so many close-ups that it’s often hard to tell what’s going on. It’s one of my pet hates in current cinema and it’s a shame that director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose House Of Wax and Orphan I thought were both very well crafted genre movies and showed great promise, has to resort to this.
The best scene in the movie though is a dialogue scene between two supporting characters played by Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz. Ernst Jurgen, who is helping Martin, receives a visit from Rodney Cole, who’s supposedly a good guy but we immediately suspect he isn’t because he’s played by Langella. They have a lengthy conversation which reveals things about their interesting pasts, while at the same time Rodney is trying to poison Ernst, and it’s extremely well written while also being very tense in an Alfred Hitchcock-type way. Unknown was written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, and their script isn’t exactly one of the ilm’s better attributes. Maybe that scene was ghost written by somebody else? Unknown does weaken considerably towards the end. Things don’t make much sense and the borrowing gets too blatant; there’s even a scene where somebody’s boss tells him he was his best operative a la The Bourne Identity. Things also seem to build to a big action climax which doesn’t happen and everything resolves itself too tidily.
Collet-Serra balances the plot and the action very well and has obviously paid close attention to pacing; it’s neat perfect for this movie. One of the best things is Neeson. I absolutely love the way he’s virtually reinvented himself as a near 60-year old action hero, and he really does give the impression that he’s not one to be messed with, while also having some very human vulnerability. Of the rest of the cast Diane Kruger is extremely likeable as Gina, the illegal Eastern European immigrant, though her rather wise, know-it-all character seems a little unbelievable. Bruno Ganz’s weary private eye is such fun that he deserves his own TV show. There’s a great deal of good stuff here, and for the first three quarters at least Unknown is a cracking thriller. Now we’ve had Paris, and now Berlin, so what I would like to know is – which European city is Neeson going to rampage through next? Rome? London? Bognor Regis?