Monday, May 28, 2012

Unknown: You Can Do A Lot Worse

If you're looking to dissect plot-holes and debate narrative plausibility in mainstream cinema, you'll want to skip this one. However, if you're cool with puzzle-solving, car chases, and just a fun, entertaining event, (think The Game meets The Fugitive in Germany) it'll be right up your ally. Unknown is a smart, well acted, well driven spin on a concept explored many times over in literature, television, and film: the loss of identity. Whereas The Twilight Zone's "Person or Persons Unknown," which was no doubt the inspiration for this screenplay, dealt with an identity switcheroo on a calm and intimate scale, this film literally throws its main character (Liam Neeson) into a sea of confusion when he must not only determine why everyone in his life has suddenly forgotten him but also figure out how to prevent an assassination and breach of security involving his "work" in biotechnology in a foreign country. The result is a tense, visually thrilling experience which director Jaume Collet-Serra pulled off with style. 
Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, in Berlin with his stunning wife Elizabeth (January Jones) for an important biotechnology seminar. Once they arrive at their hotel, he realizes that his cab driver left an important briefcase back the airport; he hurries inside another cab to retrieve it. On the way, his driver (Inglourious Basterds' Diane Kruger) swerves to avoid hitting an appliance and the cab winds up in the river. After he wakes from a coma in a hospital four days later, no one appears to know who he is and another man (Aidan Quinn) has sidled up to Elizabeth, claiming that he (Quinn) is the real Dr. Martin Harris. The race is on while (the original) Dr. Harris enlists the help of his cab driver (Kruger) and an ex-East German spy to figure out what exactly is happening to him.
The look of this film is what captures; snowy, gray, not exactly grainy, but sinister, as if Berlin itself might be in on the deception. After Dr. Harris leaves the hospital against medical advice, he begins to have colorful, overexposed flashbacks of his wife and bouts of shaky disorientation; the filmmaking showcases these events nicely without overdoing. Once the bad guys show up we get a Benz versus Volkswagen car chase through the streets of Berlin, also skillfully done (and very reminiscent of 24 or The Bourne Identity). The intensity keeps on all the way through to the end, which wraps up with a twist, crash, and bang, literally. Bottom line? Briefcases *do* get lost, memories *can* get buried, and there *are* conspiracies. If you don't over-think and just shut up and watch, you'll probably be glad that you did.