I like Liam Neeson, even if he did star in the most rubbish Star Wars film ever, and decided to appear in the upcoming board game adaptation, Battleship. He’s an actor who can be very convincing, and in Unknown that’s a rather critical sell. He plays Doctor Martin Harris, a man who finds that someone else has taken over his identity.
There are shades of the Bourne movies, and also an echo of the thrillers that made Hitchcock’s work so memorable. In essence, Unknown is a modern, Berlin-set North By Northwest.
It’s not as taut or as dynamic as previous Neeson vehicle, Taken, off the back of which he was obviously offered this, but it’s better than the majority of Hollywood productions carrying the dubious description of thriller.
In addition to Neeson, Unknown’s makers also manage to bring out some other big acting guns, with Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella and the brilliant Bruno Ganz supporting. Ganz is perhaps most famous for his role of Hitler in the film Downfall, and those who like YouTube mash-ups will now be well acquainted with that film’s bunker scene, which has been appropriated numerous times in recent years.
Not as gnarled as Ganz, but also effective, are January Jones as Neeson’s wife, and Diane Kruger as the taxi driver who inadvertently changes Dr Harris’ life.
That last point – Diane Kruger forced to earn a living driving cabs – suggests that you might need to suspend disbelief on occasion, but Unknown doesn’t overly flaunt its more illogical elements to the point where they ruin the enjoyment of what’s a serviceable romp.
I don’t want to say more about the story, because as telegraphed as they are, a couple of decent plot twists provide some final act tension, which I’d rather not spoil.
What’s more surprising to me is that this is the work of director Jaume Collet-Serra, who up until now has been better known for his work on music videos and commercials. He handles the script in a workmanlike manner, and much better than some directors who come from his particular creative avenue. House Of Wax (2005) is also on his CV, but after Unknown, I’m unwilling to hold that against him. At least, not indefinitely.
On to the disc, which is something of a mixed bag technically. Jaume Collet-Serra is quite clearly something of a Tony Scott fan, because there is grain in this movie where there is no possible reason why there should be. The problem with that and high definition systems is that they tend to highlight this aspect, which can become quite distracting as out of focus items boil and simmer incessantly.
The other side of this coin is that the contrast and colour reproduction are strong, and because of that clarity there aren’t many scenes where you can’t work out what’s going on. It’s a creative choice that filmmakers take, but it’s doesn’t transfer well to Blu-ray, I’ve concluded.
To slightly compound this problem, the shooting is also an homage to The Matrix, in that sections are quite heavily tinted using blue or aquamarine filters. This adds to the moodiness, I accept, but again, it can be somewhat distracting.
That said, if the video side of this production is a little weak, the sound is top notch. The sound editor uses the scope of 5.1 DTS HD very effectively, and produces some exceptionally immersive audio, especially during some of the bigger action sequences.
Where things go more wrong is in the extras, which don’t really fit the criteria of what that term suggests. There are a series of fatuous featurettes, made to promote the movie on release, that add very little to the enjoyment, and could actually ruin it for you if you foolishly watch them before the movie. I guess the choice they made is to add these or nothing. But when you’ve watched the movie, you then have no interest in hearing Liam repeatedly explain who his character is, do you?
There are some five-minute interviews given by the cast and crew, the majority of whom look like they came off a red-eye flight thirty seconds before being plonked in front of the cameras. In the Neeson one, the poor man actually looks worse than his character does in the movie after nearly dying and spending four days in a coma.
Overall, unless you’re a massive Neeson fan, I’d wait until the Blu-ray hits the bargain bucket before snagging what is otherwise a palatable watch.
You can rent or buy Unknown at Blockbuster.co.uk.