on February 19, 2011
Unknown may be marketed as a sequel of sorts (at least in tone) to Liam Neeson's surprise hit of a few years back, but this is not the action packed thrill ride that Taken provided. This film is about 75% mystery/thriller and 25% action. In fact, there were only a couple of fight scenes and one neat car chase to fill in the gaps when the pace needed picking up. I agree with the other reviewer here who said they wished the twist came earlier and left more time for Neeson to kick some serious booty. Speaking of the twist, I couldn't figure it out and I felt it worked really well.
Liam Neeson once again proves to be an unlikely yet very believable action star. You can't help but root for this guy. I hope he continues with these types of roles every so often. January Jones and Diane Kruger are here to look good, but only Kruger has a character worth any interest. There is a quiet scene with Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz that stands out.
Taken or Unknown? Which one do I think is better? I'll take the action in Taken any day of the week, but I feel this movie has a stronger cast and a more interesting story. Too bad they couldn't throw just a little more Qui-Gon beatdowns into the mix. Still, this is a wild ride worth at least a rental, or maybe even a nice spot next to your copy of Taken.
on June 25, 2011
This was such a good movie. Sometimes I feel cynical about movies since so many are predictable, and while this one contained the elements you'd expect - a catalyst to get the story moving, running from bad guys, a mystery that needs solving, thematic conflict and tension, and finally a resolution - I was still captivated the whole time, often on the edge of my seat, and even surprised a few times. I definitely got swept up in the story! I'll probably even watch it again. Liam hasn't failed me on-screen yet.
on December 6, 2015
******WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS*******
Once known for roles like "Schindler's List" and "Michael Collins," Neeson has now become an action star with the "Taken" trilogy, "Non-Stop" and other films including this GEM of a movie. What sets Neeson apart from other so-called "action stars" is the gravitas he brings to his roles because he is such a wonderful actor but also because he is so physically imposing. Unlike Tom Cruise [why would they cast a 5' 6" actor as Jack Reacher is beyond me] you really believe that Neeson's characters can take on the bad guys and win.
"Unknown" is a terrific movie and calls for only some suspension of disbelief in my opinion because everything comes together by the end. Yes, Neeson's character leaves his briefcase at the airport but come on people, do you want a movie or not? Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris who has come to Berlin with his wife Liz [played woodenly by eye candy January Jones, make that emaciated eye candy January Jones] who is the only person in the movie who was badly cast. Forgetting the aforementioned briefcase at the airport, he gets into a cab at his hotel driven by Diane Kruger...who brings all the life January Jones left behind as an illegal Bosnian immigrant working in Germany. They get into a car crash and Neeson wakes up in the hospital where he has been in a coma for four days.
Frantic that his wife doesn't know where he is, Harris's life turns into a Kafkaeque nightmare when he locates his wife who doesn't recognize him and worse is with another man who claims that he is Dr. Martin Harris. For a brief moment he begins to think that maybe his head injury is worse than he thought until someone tries to assassinate him and he realizes that there is a plot afoot because if he were just some guy recovering from the aftereffects of a coma, why would someone want to kill him? OK..that's it for the spoiler alerts and actually the film has so many twists and turns to it that I haven't given that much away.
Neeson has seamlessly made the transition to action star and this movie succeeds on every level. Who is he? Who is the man pretending to be Dr. Martin Harris? Why does his own wife not recognize him? What will he do and where will he turn? This is where Diane Kruger enters the picture and her performance is first rate. Her "Gina" is smart and resourceful and saves the day more than once.
Other standouts include Bruno Ganz as Ernst Jurgen, a former Stasi agent ["I cannot drink any longer but I like to forget that. We Germans are experts at forgetting. We forgot we were Nazis. Now we have forgotten 40 years of Communism - all gone."] who is an unlikely ally -- aren't we supposed to hate the East German counterparts of the KGB -- but Jurgen makes us like him almost against our will. Frank Langella as Rodney Cole and Sebastian Koch as Dr Bressler also infuse their characters with special qualities. I have been enamored with Koch since I first saw him in the Dutch film "The Black Book" and even in this small role, he shines. I did not recognize Aidan Quinn during the first go around of seeing the movie. His looks have changed a lot but once I got over the surprise of how much he has aged, I just enjoyed his usual competent performance
This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller/mystery that takes us for a ride in more ways than one meaning I hope you like car chases. If you enjoy this type of genre the way we do, you will not be disappointed. "Unknown" delivers.
(Note: this review has spoilers so if you don't want to know them, _don't_ read beyond the first half.)
Unknown, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Liam Neeson, is a decent thriller that keeps things interesting for most, though unfortunately not all, of the film. It had the potential to be so much more, but about three-quarters of the way in it tosses that potential aside and deflates into Hollywood cliche. A large part of the blame for this must be laid at the feet of Collet-Serra (who aside from directing music videos and TV commercials, was responsible for the hideous remake of House Of Wax and the cliche-ridden Orphan) and the hack writers Oliver Butcher (Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde) and Stephen Cornwell (Marshal Law, Killing Streets), whose only real claim to fame is that he's the son of John LeCarre.
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson), a prominent botanist, arrives in Berlin with his beautiful wife (January Jones) to attend a conference. When they reach the hotel, Harris realizes he left his briefcase back at the airport and goes back to get it, hailing a cab driven by Gina (Diane Kruger), a Bosnian immigrant working in Germany illegally. An accident on the way back to the airport sends the taxi off a bridge and into a river, causing Harris to strike his head and go unconscious. He wakes up in a hospital four days later with hazy memories and no identification, his passport and other documents apparently in the missing briefcase. The hospital, not knowing who he was, had not been able to notify anyone. Harris, worried about his wife, hurries to a reception at the conference, only to find that his wife does not recognize him and that there is another man with her (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be her husband... Dr. Martin Harris. And to his confusion and consternation, his wife is acting as if the other Harris is her husband while professing to never have seen Neeson's Harris before in her life. Furthermore, Quinn's Harris has identification as well as photos of him with his wife, and an internet check turns up Quinn's photo as Dr. Harris and not Neeson's.
From that point, Harris must try to prove who he is, to himself as much as to everyone else, and to find out why his wife is refusing to acknowledge his identity. He goes back to where his problems all began - with the cab ride back to the airport - and manages to track down Gina and convinces her to help him. Then strange things start happening. People are trying to kill him and anyone he comes into contact with. He finds messages in code that make no sense but seem to have something to do with a conspiracy. And he keeps getting flashes of memory that seem real and yet are confusing and dream-like. Just who is Martin Harris? And is he the real Harris?
The cast is generally capable. Neeson turns in his usual first-class performance while most of the other actors are workmanlike, if not exactly riveting, in theirs. Bruno Ganz however outshines everyone else in the film in a minor role as a thoroughly unapologetic and unrepentant former Stasi (East German secret police) officer Neeson seeks out to help prove who he is. Ganz (Wings of Desire, Downfall) is truly a marvel to watch, showing how a great actor can turn what might have been a trivial role into one that steals every scene he's in. Frank Langella, a very gifted actor when given the chance (Frost & Nixon, Good Night And Good Luck), is unfortunately wasted in this film. He's played so many villainous and/or creepy characters in recent years that he's become type-cast and his mere presence is a dead giveaway that his character is not on the side of the angels.
All in all, Unknown is a watchable if not particularly memorable thriller, so long as you are willing to suspend the average level of disbelief and don't mind its failure to rise above the level of usual Hollywood fare.
(*** Warning - From this point on, spoilers await ***)
A number of problems keep Unknown from living up to its potential, a big one being its sheer predictability: I had already guessed what the mystery of the two Harrises was just from seeing the trailer. It really was fairly obvious that there was no real Martin Harris and that Neeson had only been pretending to be Harris when the accident threw a monkey wrench into everything.
The other problems with the film generally fall into three categories: (1) characters behaving either stupidly or inconsistently because the plot requires it, (2) plot-holes and character actions requiring repeated suspension of disbelief, and (3) taking the easy, cliched way out to resolve things rather than going in a direction that the audience might not have expected.
In no particular order, Unknown is burdened with:
Characters with inexplicable driving skills. One has to wonder about taxi drivers - not to mention botanists - who somehow pull off stunts and maneuvers that would (and probably did) stagger entire teams of experienced stunt-men.
Head trauma as a force for good. It's been done so many times that it's almost a film cliche that a villain, having taken a good knock in the head that leaves him unable to remember who or what he really is, somehow undergoes a personality transformation that stays in place even when he finally remembers. And so Neeson's professional assassin who had no problems whatsoever killing people in the past and was on a mission to kill new targets, is now nobly scrambling to save them. The film would have been far more interesting if Neeson's personality had reverted to sociopathic killer when his memories returned. But then that wouldn't have given the cliched Hollywood ending the script was calling for.
Pointless code to be solved. The whole sub-plot around the code, written by Jones, that Neeson finds in a book he's carrying is ridiculous as the only thing they're concealing is the Latin names of two flowers. First of all, who couldn't simply remember the Latin names of two flowers? Secondly, given that Jones is using them to hack into a laptop from another laptop, why wouldn't she simply keep them on her own laptop? And why did she bother writing them in a book Neeson was carrying? Particularly given that when she needed them to hack into the target laptop, she didn't use the book at all.
Convenient loss of specific items. A large part of the plot depends on Neeson losing his identification in the accident. But it also depends on him not losing the book and on having some cash. So voila! While being fished out of the river, he somehow loses all identification but still has plenty of cash and the book with the code written in it. Why? Because the plot requires it.
Gina. So, we have a female cab driver (already a low-level probability) with fashion-model good looks (an even lower probability) who speaks perfect English (try finding one of those here!) and who continues to hang around Neeson even after it's clear that he's being pursued by professional assassins who are killing anyone Neeson comes into contact with.
People being stupid and/or incompetent because the plot demands it. Once their targets are no longer in the hotel room, Jones' assassin goes back to disarm the bomb. For what earthly reason? Because the plot demands it. And despite knowing everything about where the bomb is, how it's armed, and exactly when it's supposed to go off, she fumbles around ineptly for five minutes trying to disarm the bomb until it finally goes off, killing her and only her.
When the shaved-head assassin goes to Neeson's hospital room to finish him off, he kills two nurses in short order, snapping their necks. But for Neeson, instead of simply snapping his neck like the others, the killer decides to tie him to a gurney and then inject some kind of drug into his IV bag which will take minutes to make it down the tube into his system. Why? To make it seem like an accident? When he's already leaving two bodies very obviously murdered? Because the plot demands it, that's why.
And why do the other assassins keep trying to kill Neeson in such a way that it will look like a drug accident/overdose? They've been leaving bodies littered left and right with broken necks all over Berlin but for some reason Neeson must look like a drug death? Why? Because the plot requires Neeson must always have enough time to avoid being killed. Stupid.
And on top of it all, the whole elaborate conspiracy to kill a scientist by making it seem as if he was simply a bystander killed in a bombing attack on a rich Arab prince? Why? Again, because the plot demands it.
All in all, Unknown was an okay thriller, but only just barely. In the end it was both frustrating and disappointing. Frustrating because it had the potential to be so much more; disappointing because it settled for the safe, lame and thoroughly cliched Hollywood outcome that we've seen a thousand times before.
on June 20, 2014
UNKNOWN, another one of recent action star Liam Neeson's winter season offerings, is fairly entertaining, but also very implausible. Liam Neeson plays Martin Harris, a scientist who is attending a biotech conference in Berlin with his wife. Or is he? After an accident, he is left with no identification and no proof of who he is, and everyone is claiming they don't know him. He then proceeds to find out who he is. This type of mystery/thriller has been done before, although perhaps not as slickly as this one. The movie ERASED, starring Aaron Eckhart comes to mind, although that pales in comparison to this in terms of just about everything. Liam Neeson once again shows that he makes a capable, if unexpected, action star and he also has the acting chops to give it some weight. January Jones as his wife, however, is practically a non-entity. She practically sleepwalks through her limited role and doesn't really give off anything resembling human emotion, although that might have been on purpose. To accurately describe my reasoning would delve into spoiler territory, so I'll just leave it at that. Diane Kruger also gave a good performance as an immigrant taxi driver who helps out Liam Neeson's character. Aside from him, she's given the most screen time and is given a nice back story, to boot. Rounding out the cast are Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella. Although neither one of them had a lot of screen time (one might say they were underutilized), they did own the few scenes they were in. In terms of technical quality, the film was decent. There was a fair amount of handheld camerawork, but none of it was too "shaky" and the fight scenes were comprehensible. There was even a couple good car chases. There was also some nice on-location shooting in Berlin, although the visual palette of the film didn't really bring out anything spectacular. Narrative-wise, the film is preposterous but still fun. There was a couple of moments where I laughed out loud due to how ridiculous things were, but overall I just accepted that the whole premise was far-fetched and went with it. Now, being mostly a dumb action movie, you wouldn't expect it to have much in the way of pertinent themes or sociopolitical commentary, but they did manage to shoehorn some in via Bruno Ganz's character, a former Stasi agen,t and a Saudi prince who is bankrolling a GMO project. Nothing too deep is said, but it was nice that they acknowledged that these things exist. As a whole, the movie is ok. It moves along at a good pace and is never boring. Still, discerning moviegoers would be justified in skipping it if they don't like this brand of action movie.