Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Film Yap: Unknown

Thrillers should never be boring. “Boring” is always a very lame criticism because it refers too much to your emotional state while watching, not what the film is doing during that time. So what is Unknown doing wrong?

The mystery of the plot is introduced rather quickly. Liam Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, an esteemed scholar in Berlin for a conference where he is scheduled to speak. Before he checks into his hotel with his wife (January Jones), his taxi crashes into the river.

He wakes up from a coma with a few missing memories and a few days of his life. He goes to the hotel and his wife doesn’t recognize him. She’s with another man (Adrian Quinn) who claims to be Martin Harris. All of the webpages featuring his work has this man’s picture. Has he lost his mind or is something sinister afoot.

When there is a puzzle plot like this, the question at the heart of the story has to be worthwhile and tangible. Wondering what is going on with Martin Harris is not very interesting because there are so man options for a conclusion. It can be supernatural, it could be insanity, it could be a conspiracy. Each one doesn’t offer a fun conclusion, but more of a doubtful reexamining of the previous sequences.

Having it be tangible is more important. There need to be clues that allows the audience to think they have a fighting chance in figuring out what’s going on. The best mysteries give you that hope and then one-up the audience while still playing fair. The best way to play fair is to not have the mystery’s conclusion be essential because everyone is more interested in the characters.

This film is not interested in the characters. Martin Harris changes personalities too often early on for him to ever be someone worth rooting for. It’s like the film is too worried that it could be boring. They ended up being right in that fear, but they fixed it with the wrong components. Instead of adding more dimensions to the plot, they keep adding worthless action scenes. Why be mysterious when you can be Taken?

There are way more explosions and car chases that account to nothing. The final half hour just becomes laughable in realizing how many other (better) films it’s ripping off. With all of these unsatisfying shifts, most of the talented actors are left in the dust. Quinn, Bruno Ganz (Downfall), and Frank Langella overplay the creepy factor because that’s all they have to work with. Neeson decided this is only an action movie so he’s angry a lot and Jones further proves she can only act if she’s on a Mad Men set. Aside from a questionable accent, Diane Kruger saves a lot of the scenes she’s in even though her character has nothing to do but be that girl who helps the hero for no reason.

There are movies with this premise like the French surrealist film La Moustache that decide to just be about the atmosphere. There are plenty of movies that use misplaced memories (and not as an inconsistent plot device) to explore greater themes of humanity. This just ends up being about nothing.

The DVD/Blu-Ray is very thin. Just two five-minute featurettes. One praises Liam Neeson for being a wonderful human being and action hero. The other praises the plot of the movie for being so clever. All hyperbole, nothing insightful or interesting. It’s less than ten minutes of footage and 2/3rds is clips from the movie and for the rest, they actually repeat quotes.

Film: 2 Yaps

Extras: 1 Yap


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