It took me awhile to realize this, but it seems like Hollywood is really into this theme of self-discovery and identity crises. However, unlike DC, the end results are mixed at best. There are successful journeys in memory loss and re-capturing a former self, no matter how damaged that original persona may be. The top two successful films from 2010 that come to mind are, obviously, Shutter Island and Inception. Those films were not only entertaining, but they kept you enthralled, wondering when the next twist would come.
…and then there are films like Unknown.
Unknown is about Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), a professor visiting Berling for a science conference with his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones). However, following a car accident that results in a four day disappearance, Harris finds another man claiming to be him. Further adding fuel to the fire is his wife playing along with the ploy. Faced with paranoiac state and men who may or may not be attempting to kill him, Harris employs the aid of the taxi driver that was involved with his car accident (Diane Kruger) to get his life back.
The acting in Unknown is alright. I racked my brain for a better adjective, but I had to settle with “alright.” That actually sums up how I felt about the film as a whole. January Jones plays Harris’s wife well, properly concealing a secret she’s withholding from her husband (like all wives, right?). Elizabeth Harris is a surface character that, appropriately, doesn’t allow you to delve deeper inside her. In contrast, Diane Kruger’s character, Gina, seems so stereotypical of the genre. Harris simply needs a person from the outside of his life in order to solve his personal mystery. Speaking of mystery, I felt Neeson was hit or miss. Some of his lines were delivered awkwardly. There’s a very specific line in the last act where he calls somebody an “asshole,” but the way he says it just seemed so unnatural.
It’s fitting, then, that the film’s title is Unknown. The title serves as a parallel to both Harris’s lack of self-identity, as well as the film’s own lack of identity. It simply doesn’t know what it wants to be. While the trailers might lead you to believe Unknown is a spiritual successor to Taken, it’s not by a long shot. Instead, the action is basically MIA for the first hour. The first two acts of the film are a decent-enough drama where Harris is collecting information to solve this plot against him, but the last act is a solid clusterfudge that not only feels forced, but turns the entire film on its head. Such twists should be used properly to dramatic effect, but Unknown’s twist just alienates the rest of the film.
To sum the film up with a reference to a recent film series, Unknown does its best attempt to mimic the Bourne series. But unlike those films, Unknown lacks in both the action and story categories. If this review isn’t enough to keep you from watching the film, I suggest you reply back the moment after it ends and I dare you not to start your response with a bolded WTF. In fact, Unknown just might become that film you rent on a boring weekend so you could laugh at just how ridiculous the ending is.
Liz Rugg: There are a lot of things that Unknown does really well. The entire beginning of the movie is set up really nicely, especially if you go into it without knowing much about the plot. January Jones plays her character, Elizabeth Harris, extremely convincingly, though you don’t understand why she’s so convincing until later in the movie. There’s also the absolutely adorable Bruno Ganz as Ernst Jürgen, who I might add, has the most beautiful old-man apartment I’ve ever seen on film. However, there’s also a few relatively major plot flaws in Unknown which end up leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Fans of the genre or of the actors might really enjoy it, but it really falls flat from the mind-bending thriller it purports to be. 69 – Okay.
Glenn Morris Unknown is as cold as the Berlin Winter it’s set in. Squash together Frantic, Total Recall, The Bourne Identity, and the criminally canceled series Nowhere Man and you’re left with no vacancy for ideas. The absurdity of this film isn’t blatant until its conclusion, but Unknown lacks even a solitary moment where the sum is greater than its parts. 42 – Terrible.
Matthew Razak: Unknown is the kind of film that misses at what it tries to do thanks to poor pacing and a general lack of caring. However, it does include one of the better car chases I’ve seen in a while and a twist that you won’t see coming at all — mostly because it’s pretty ridiculous. I just wish it had come earlier in the film so that Neeson could kick more butt than he does. 65 – Okay.