Thursday, February 17, 2011

Movie Review: UnKnown

Recently I was offered a free ticket to a pre-screening of Unknown (2011). being a known movie buff to the point it is almost degenerate, I snapped at the opportunity.

I like Liam Neeson. Despite some horrific choices like Clash of the Titans (2010), he more regularly turns in fun, entertaining stuff like the ridiculous A-Team (2010), Taken (2008), and so forth.
So I was excited to see this one. He proved capable of an action role in Taken so at least had some credibility.

The movie starts a bit slowly with the arrival in Berlin of Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth Harris (January Jones). They get separated at the hotel when he realizes his briefcase is still in the taxi.
He hails another taxi to retrieve the briefcase, gets into an accident that creates gaps in his memory, and then the movie really begins.
When he remembers he is supposed to be at a conference and shows up, he encounters various problems. Having lost his wallet in the accident and having his passport in the lost briefcase, he cannot prove who he is.

The situation is exacerbated when his wife turns out to be married to someone else and both of them claim to have no idea who he is. A professor at the conference who invited him has never met him in person.
He begins to doubt who he is until, during an MRI, someone attempts to assassinate him.

The mystery of who he is and why his wife claims not to know him gets deeper as assassins begin seeking to kill him. Who is Martin Harris and why does nobody know who he is?
The movie moves along at a stiff pace, revealing bits and pieces and keeping you intrigued right up until the end. All the clues to the mystery are there if you know what to look for, though of course the real motives of a few key players are only revealed in hindsight.

There are a couple turns that you may or may not see coming, but it is a great ride getting there.
Along the way there are some fun performances, including the delightful Herr Ernst J├╝rgen (Bruno Ganz).
There is a major quibble with this movie, however. Director Jaume Collet-Serra fell prey to the idea that the best way to present action scenes is numerous tight cuts that make it impossible to tell what is happening.

You can tell someone hit someone, but not who did the hitting and who the grunting in pain. Cars appear from nowhere, there is no point of reference in chase scenes, and thus the action in an action movie is replaced by blank stares at other patrons and wondering who is winning the fight and how.
This is a trend that needs to stop. A chase scene where you cannot tell if the pursuer is 2" or 2 miles behind is a horrible scene. Stop it. Just...stop.
That aside, it is an enjoyable journey getting to the pleasing finale. This movie probably would be good to re-watch once knowing the ending to see all the little hints, but would probably lose its charm after that as the very things that make it entertaining would then be gone.

The slow reveal of why people do not know Smith is the story and very enjoyable at that.