A cinematic “page turner,” Unknown is a riveting action mystery that will keep you guessing from beginning to end. Set against the backdrop of a bioengineering conference in Berlin, the film stars Liam Neeson as Dr. Martin Harris, a lecturer at the ceremony. Leaving his wife at the hotel to retrieve a briefcase accidentally left at the airport, he ends up in a car accident that leaves him in a coma for four days. When he awakes, not only does nobody seem to know who he is, but another man (Aidan Quinn) has literally taken over his life.
What’s fascinating about this setup are the potential directions the story can take. Most films are fairly straightforward, but in this case, I really didn’t know where everything was going. I wouldn’t dream of giving any of the twists away, but for the longest time, I couldn’t even be sure what genre this film was. It seemed to alternate between an episode of the Twilight Zone and another Neeson blockbuster, Taken (also a fantastic film).
Like Taken, Neeson plays a man on a mission, in this case, to find out what happened to his identity. Rest assured, everything makes perfect sense by the end, and it’s a fascinating journey to get there. I love playing armchair detective, and this was a really fun story to piece together. Now, this isn’t an intellectual film by any means, but it’s always gripping. Filled with thrilling car chases and riveting fight sequences, director Jaume Collet-Serra and his director of photography Flavio Labiano have made a film that is always visually interesting. Set mostly at night in the wintertime, they capture a beauty in Berlin that really sells this as a perfect location for the film.
Unfortunately, the film does have one major weakness, and that is January Jones’ performance as Dr. Harris’ wife. Every other performance in the film is great, including supporting roles from Frank Langella and Diane Kruger, but there’s just something about Jones’ work here that isn’t up to par. I’ve always been a defender of her work as Betty Draper on Mad Men, where her flat delivery and icy demeanor seem perfectly suited for the character. However, after seeing her work in this and the new X-Men film, I’m starting to think that she might not be capable of anything else. She plays the role exactly as she plays Betty, and not only is that a distraction for those familiar with Mad Men, but the performance doesn’t suit the character. At all.
However, this is a minor quibble with what is otherwise a great film. Now on Blu-Ray, the film looks and sounds amazing. I just loved the look of the film, and it’s captured perfectly on this release. Even though the film is mostly set in the evening, the images of the film just pop off the screen. The 1080P High Definition does wonders for Berlin, and this would be a great demo disc for somebody showing off their television. The film sounds great as well, with English 5.1 and Dolby Digital. There is a lot of action in this film, and every punch, crash and explosion is perfectly mixed together, really enabling the viewer to get lost in the world.
Unforunately, there are only two extra features, and they’re both pretty much a waste of time. The first one, “Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero,” is a brief featurette, running just over four minutes, that spends it’s running time talking about how great Liam Neeson is. There are several interviews with everyone ranging from producer extraordinaire Joel Silver to Neeson himself. There is no real insight into the film, or even Neeson’s performance. It’s a very “produced” segment that doesn’t really serve much of a purpose.
The other feature is called “Unkown: What is Known?,” that again, doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. Also running just over four minutes, this is basically an extended commercial for the film. I wish there was some more insight into the craft that went into making the film, but unfortunately, this is all we get. However, the movie itself is so much fun, I have to let the lack of extras slide. This was a really clever script, with some great characters, and fantastic performances (with the exception of Jones). A great mystery enhanced by the great action, I can’t recommend the film enough.