Review: UNKNOWN (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Review: UNKNOWN (2011)

RATING: 1.5/5

Widely advertised as a follow-up of sorts to the 2009's surprise hit TAKEN, UNKNOWN is looking set to be another surefire winner for Liam Neeson. But anyone, especially action fans, are expecting another high-octane action thriller in the similar template of TAKEN will be sorely disappointed by the more Hitchcockian-like territory that borders more on psychological suspense. Blame it on the misleading marketing strategy (well, that isn't new after all, considering Hollywood big-studio system loves to deceive viewers) but even the movie is actually geared as a suspense thriller, it fails miserably on (almost) all counts.

The first 10 minutes of the movie, however, delivers a knockout premise that is particularly intriguing: Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his beautiful wife, Elizabeth (January Jones) have just arrived in wintry Berlin for a business trip to give a presentation at a high-profile biotechnology summit. Once they are in an executive hotel, Martin realized that his important briefcase, which contained all his necessary document and identification, was somehow left at the airport. While his wife is busy checking in for their hotel room, Martin hurries back to the airport by catching a taxi ride. When Martin urges the taxi driver to take shortcut to get to the airport as fast as possible, an unlikely car accident occurs in a busy traffic that sends the taxi losing control and plunges over into the river. The taxi driver manages to save Martin from getting drowned, and next thing he knows, he wakes up from a coma four days later lying down in a hospital. He's been wondering about his wife's whereabouts and what's even worse is that he has lost all his identification and passport, while having trouble remembering most of the important agenda prior to the serious car accident. Worrying sick for his wife, he decides to discharge from the hospital even though he is not fully recovered yet. And so, he rushes back to the hotel to find his wife and is temporarily relieved. But what surprises him the next is that his wife looks him in the eye and claims she doesn't know who he is at all. Martin is further shocked when she tells him she is actually married to another man (Aidan Quinn) who shares his name and identity. Martin immediately claims the man as an impostor but unfortunately no one lead to believe since he doesn't have identification at all to prove his existence.

So far so good, but what follows next is an occasional downfall that doesn't regain proper footing as the rest of the story sees Martin is trying to regain back his memory loss. After admitting himself back into hospital, a nurse is kind enough to help him out by recommending her friend, Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz), the former head of the German Secret Police who specializes in private investigation. Ernst urges him to track down the taxi driver who saves him in the first place, and that taxi driver turns out to be an illegal immigrant named Gina (Diane Kruger). Martin and Gina eventually team up to help each other out, and subsequently become targets of two mysterious assassins as they are inching close for the truth. From here, the movie suffers greatly from glacial pace and director Jaume Collet-Serra just doesn't have a clue when to stop or restrain at all. Not only that, Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell’s screenplay (which is adapted from a Gallic novel called Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert) is chock full of loopholes which grows progressively unstable during subsequent running time.

Sure, the car chases are well-staged which provides some exhilarating moments the movie can offer here but less so when the rest of the action sequences are mostly edited in tight close-ups and frantic camera jerks (especially when comes to hand-to-hand combat). But nothing comes as shockingly dull as the inevitable twist ending. A movie that relies heavily on twist to tie up the entire context of the story is either make or break, but in the case of UNKNOWN, the twist here is so fundamentally silly that it (almost) ruined the entire movie that comes before. Once Martin's longtime colleague named Rodney Cole (Frank Langella) make his last-minute appearance to meet him, a series of expository-filled scenarios take place and we are gradually being revealed about Martin's true identity. And that climactic revelation is sketchy at best and at the same time fails to give any sort of satisfying, let alone coherent explanation of the entire going-on.

Cast-wise, all the actors give mixed performances ranging from above-average to plain dull. Of all, Liam Neeson is at least engaging here. Playing a desperate man trapped in a series of pressure-cooker scenarios, just like the way he does successfully before in TAKEN, Neeson's relentless performance almost echoes the same intensity Harrison Ford used to play in the like-minded role (e.g. 1988's FRANTIC). Ernst Jurgen, in the meantime, has his own fair of lion's share stealing some limelight in a small but memorable performance as the wily private investigator. His best moment, and incidentally the movie's strongest point involves a meeting between him and Rodney, where both of them are trying to outwit each other in a good old-fashioned spy game. And what is particularly excellent about this scene is no physical action or any kinetic visual involved -- just two veteran actors in a series of verbal exchanges hinged with an air of menace. Too bad Langella's role himself is sorely underwritten, and mostly relegated to stunt casting. As for the rest of the supporting actors, January Jones acts like a piece of wooden plank while Diane Kruger delivers a thankless role who does nothing more other than following Martin around and looking panic the whole time. The least said about Aidan Quinn the better, as his role is particularly wasted.

UNKNOWN is actually has the potential to become an excellent thriller in the vein of Hitchcockian territory, but what we have here instead is a wannabe thriller that is just plain embarrassing and little else.

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