Unknown Blu-ray review
|REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS|
Why do people keep messing with Liam Neeson? Don't they know he will find them?...
Death, Cab and Cuties.
I once woke up with a headache in a strange location where nobody recognised me and days were missing from my life. Turns out I was recovering from a hangover at a party I’d crashed in a student squat. Luckily, I escaped before anybody raised too much objection. Things don’t go so smoothly for Dr Martin Harris (Taken's Liam Neeson), however, in the action thriller Unknown. Somebody has stolen his life, wife and probably his Blockbuster rental card too.
Jaume Collet-Serra, who is better known for directing the pair of horror films Orphan and the appalling House of Wax, does a better job adapting Didier Van-Cauwelaert’s 2003 novel - 'Hors de moi’, (Out of my head). [And he's recently been announced as the new director of Akira - News Ed.] It’s inevitable this film will receive the usual Hitchcock/De Palma references because it’s almost a paint by numbers conspiracy thriller. There’s even a Grace Kelly ice queen thrown in for good measure. January Jones plays the confused doctor’s wife - Elizabeth Harris - with her normal, stoic acting style. However, the director pulls a clever trick and switches labels on the paint pots and soon we no longer know what’s black and what’s white.
The couple arrive in a wintery Berlin to attend a bio-technology symposium but their plans are soon put on ice...quite literally. As the good doctor travels back to the airport to collect his missing briefcase, his taxi crashes through a bridge and plummets into the freezing river. This is where the coma happens and the story starts in earnest. It’s a scene that echoed another Spanish director’s breakthrough film, Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes). The film is beautifully shot and takes great advantage of the sometimes strange - but nevertheless - stunning juxtaposition of the historic yet modern city of Berlin.
Dr Harris wakes from the coma in a Berlin hospital and wonders why his wife hasn’t looked for him and why his memory has more holes in it than a Poundshop colander. When Harris returns to his hotel and confronts his wife he’s shocked to find that, not only has she forgotten him completely in just four days, but is attending a party with another husband called Dr Martin Harris. Martin Harris version two is played by Neeson’s real lifelong friend Aidan Quinn. Confused? Well imagine how Neeson’s character feels. He starts to believe these are false memories and he’s going insane. Eventually he manages to track down the cabby that drove him into the crystal clear water and into a very murky world.
The accident prone taxi driver is played by stunning Diane Kruger. I hope January Jones hung around on set to watch Kruger’s approach to acting, she could learn a great deal from this accomplished performer. She displays the vulnerability, fear and strength required for an illegal immigrant watching her back every second of the day. When called upon she even tackles the action sequences with style. Miss Jones, on the other hand, appears to have just two forms of acting styles- smile/don’t smile.
It may be ironic that the only real German in the film plays an illegal immigrant. I’m sure it was nothing more than a quirk of fate to cast Kruger in this role but it does prove to be serendipitous. A German playing an alien, in Berlin, dodging the iron fist of the authorities while trying to figure out how she can belong there adds levity and chilling subtext in light of the country’s recent history. Kruger’s character Gina is a survivor of the Bosnian genocide who lost everything including her whole family and is searching for her own sense of place. This is a great metaphor for a lot of Germans - especially from the east side of the Brandenburg Gate - who are still searching for what it is to be a German in a unified country; one that hasn’t quite figured that question out itself yet.
After a few murders and twisting plotlines, Harris and Gina are thrown into a frantic chase from unknown killers determined on silencing anybody who has had contact with Dr Harris. There were times through this film I could seriously see Micahel Caine’s Harry Palmer skulking though the snowy Berlin streets, tackling assassins and speeding through car chases that utilised the cities confined spaces so well. These action set pieces benefited greatly from the DTS-HD sound. Ultimately though, this film plays on very 21st century fears of identity theft and the devastation such crimes have on their targets. Personally, I can’t think of anybody who could have played this character better than Neeson. The director made him the number one target after watching his much acclaimed 2008 action thriller Taken, and I can see why - there is a vein that runs between both films that flows with the same blood.
Other notable performances come from Bruno Ganz playing the ex-Stazi officer now private detective Ernst Jürgen and Frank Langella who is an old friend and scientific mentor of Dr Harris. Even though both of these characters have short screen time, their involvement in the plot and their cinematic experience is essential in raising this beyond a dumb conspiracy spy yarn.
The latter part of the film starts to unravel mysteries and plot twists almost every few minutes. There’s identities to be recovered and discovered, connections from the past to be resolved and a code written in an ancient journal that needs deciphering- a metaphor for the new residing in the old again. The producers promised a shocking twist that you would never guess. I’m afraid I did and, although it failed to surprise me it’s still a very good ending that will surprise some viewers.
Obviously I can’t say too much more, but suffice to say we have a Middle East Prince with several failed assassination attempts tucked under his Keffiyeh, a biologist with the discovery of the century and a bio technician with (guess what?) a stolen identity. I’d say it’s a film for action fans who desire a bit of intelligent story, thriller fans who want something fresh and fans of John Frankenheimer’s paranoia trilogy.
Unknown could have been a classic in the making, but ultimately lacked the high tension of films such as Frantic; and although the cast were generally brilliant the addition of January Jones weakened most scenes she appeared in.
Interviews with the main cast members, director and two of the producers. Each interview seems like it’s being read from minutely adapted copies of the same script. If you watch any one of these at random you can skip the rest without losing out.
The three small featurettes are more entertaining. Well if you like slightly more narrative retellings of the same information included in the interviews. The interviews and featurettes- ‘Unknown: The Story’, ‘Behind The Scenes’ and ‘Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero’ are a meagre collection of extras seemingly assembled in the same afternoon.
There was no commentary track on this preview disc but hopefully there will be on release.
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