Thursday, June 16, 2011

Unknown: Don't expect Taken 2, but see it anyway

Unknown (drama, mystery, thriller)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger and January Jones

Warner Bros. | 2011 | 113 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Jun 21, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French, Portuguese, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese

50GB Blu-ray Disc
DVD copy (with digital copy)

The Film 4/5

Unknown’s plot is extremely simple once you know a key piece of information, but that’s not revealed until late in the movie. As a result, you’ll find yourself confused and having to guess what’s really going on. On first viewing, Unknown is full of mystery and puts the viewer in the position of the main protagonist, Martin Harris (Neeson). Like Memento, the story keeps letting us see events in a new context and their meaning changes as a result.

Harris flies into Berlin with wife Liz (Jones) for a biotechnology conference. He’s one of the speakers. While getting into a taxi at the airport, he leaves behind a briefcase containing his passport and vital documents. Does that seem like the act of a man with the supposed intelligence of Harris? He notices that it's missing when they arrive at the hotel and jumps into another taxi while his wife checks in. There’s no signal for his phone (really) so he can’t explain his actions.

The taxi is involved in an accident and plunges into a river. The driver, Gina (Kruger), pulls him out and then runs off leaving him in the hands of the medics. He wakes up in hospital and all he can remember is his name and that he’s married to Liz, who doesn’t know where he is. The doctor tells him that he’s been in a coma for four days.

Luckily, he sees a story about the conference on TV in his room and remembers that he’s supposed to be attending. It shows the hotel where he was supposed to check in. How convenient. After checking out and going to the hotel, he sees his wife at a reception. The problem is she says that she doesn’t know him. She even introduces another man as her husband, Martin Harris. The hotel security men throw him out. Are you confused yet? Is he really Martin Harris? Is everything we are seeing just some coma-induced dream? Is he crazy?

The story continues with Harris trying to prove his identity. He finds Gina and she agrees to help him. He also phones a friend in the US who he knows can confirm his identity. His memories slowly start to return and he notes everything he can remember. One piece of information tells him that he has a meeting arranged with Professor Bressler, who he communicated with by phone and email for a while. Maybe Bressler can confirm his identity? It wouldn’t explain his wife’s actions, but it would be a start.

I won’t reveal any more of the story because it would ruin the mystery, but it contains a few glaring plot holes. The exposition is also laughable at times and assumes that the audience is pretty dumb. My favorite example is: “So that’s got all your secrets in it, right?”

You might be wondering why I gave the movie such a high score if it’s full of so many plot holes and stupid dialogue. The reason is it somehow works. Neeson is such a good actor that he pulls it off. I found myself actually caring about his predicament and wanting to see him resolve it. Most of the supporting cast does a great job too and I was especially impressed with Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella.

Did you see the movie posters advertising the theatrical run? It showed Neeson holding a gun and looking ready to take on the world. In short, it was marketed as Taken 2. If you buy the movie on the strength of that image, you may be disappointed. Neeson doesn’t touch a gun at any point in the movie. There are a couple of car chases and scenes full of action, but this is nothing like Taken. Neeson does get into a couple of fights, but this is more a mystery than an action movie. Fans of Taken might like Neeson enough to enjoy this too, but be aware that the two movies are very different.

I found myself invested in the story, even though I could see that parts of it were contrived or even ludicrous. Neeson plays it dead straight and is believable in his role. Kruger did a good job as his sidekick. I’ve watched the movie twice now and will be happy to watch it again despite its flaws.

Video Quality 4.5/5
I have no complaints about the picture quality. Fine grain is present throughout and detail is always strong. I detected one slightly noisy image in a dark scene, but that’s a minor quibble. Colors look accurate and the presentation is clean and bright. You’ll be very happy when you see it.

Audio Quality 5/5
The movie starts quietly, but gradually increases in volume as the action rises. Dialogue is always clear, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track really starts to shine when we see the car crash. The action scenes in the final act all benefit from heavy use of the surrounds and you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of the action. The audio presentation is flawless.

Special Features 1/5

There are two HD features which run for a total of nine minutes and the content of each overlaps with the other. I hoped for much more.

Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero (4:33) – Brief interviews with the cast and crew about the making of the film.

Unknown: What is Unknown (4:24) – Similar in content to the opening feature, but it’s more of an extended advertisement and appears to have been shot before the movie was released.

I’m not sure what Unknown is supposed to be. There are too many holes for it to be a serious drama or compelling mystery, but there’s not really enough action for it to fall into that genre. If you go into it with the right attitude, you’ll probably enjoy it. I had fun watching it the first time and enjoyed seeing it on Blu-ray. For fans of Neeson, it’s worth adding to your collection. For action fans, it could fail to meet expectations. The Blu-ray presentation certainly won't disappoint, but there's very little in the way of special features.

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