Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella
| Studio: Warner |
Film Length: 113 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: June 21, 2011
The Film ***½In Unknown, Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, who has recently arrived in Paris with his wife, Liz (Jones), to attend a prestigious biotechnology seminar. While traveling back to the airport to retrieve a briefcase he left behind, Martin's taxi is in a serious accident leaving him hospitalized and in a coma. He wakes up four days later and upon leaving the hospital, he is shocked to discover that his wife Liz does not recognize him and another man (Quinn) has assumed his identity. His disorientation quickly evolves into paranoia when he becomes convinced that he is being followed. In his quest to unravel the mystery surrounding his stolen identity, he tracks down Sara (Kruger), the taxi driver who rescued him from her crashed cab, and enlists the aid of Jurgen (Ganz), a former East German foreign intelligence agent.
Unknown is a modestly effective thriller that's primary strength is its ability to keep viewers guessing. Even the genre of the film seems in doubt at times as the source of the disorienting experiences of Neeson's character seems alternately psychological, supernatural, and/or practical. While almost no element of the film is something a modestly film-literate viewer can claim to have never seen before, Director Jaume Collet-Serra uses the familiar elements to create expectations in viewers that are in turn shattered, inverted, and occasionally met straight on. The ultimate solutions to the film's mysteries, which unravel fast and furiously during the final reel, hold up under scrutiny better than the twist that provided the climax of Collet-Serra's previous film, the Bad Seed-ish horror psycho-drama Orphan, while providing the same sort of visceral kick.
Stylistically, Collet-Serra employs a similar visual approach as he did with Orphan, using lots of filtering, monochromatic lighting, "Kubrickian" pushed exposures, and deep blacks with high contrast to create a heightened reality that is entirely appropriate for the game of "guess the genre" built into the film's plot. The moody lighting suggest a "Sixth Sense" style supernatural element. At the same time, the presence of both a cool blonde (Kruger) and a zero degrees Kelvin blonde (Jones) as well as Neeson's character's inability to convince the authorities of anything he knows to be true is purposely evocative of Alfred Hitchcock. Neeson fares well as the film's central "everyman/no-man", providing a real sense of vulnerability not evidenced in his recent forays as an action hero in Taken and The A-Team. Collet-Serra wisely stages the violent action scenes as messy and awkward without a single participant involved in a life or death struggle ever demonstrating an intimate knowledge of Kung Fu. The sense that Neeson's character is in real danger is essential to maintaining the viewer's interest throughout the film, but it does get almost comically repetitive how frequently he is saved by one other character in particular. A supporting cast featuring the likes of Diane Kruger, Frank Langella, and Bruno Ganz helps tremendously to elevate the material. A scene late in the film between Ganz and Langella will likely make viewers wish they were watching a film about just those two characters.
While the twisty plot, appealing stylization, and strong central performance from Liam Neeson make the film an entertaining experience for first time viewers, there is almost literally nothing to the film except its story. The best films relying on twisty plots and rug pulling revelations, such as David Mamet's House of Games, work on levels above and beyond the mechanics of the plot (in the case of ...Games it presented an intriguing psychological profile of a repressed and compulsive personality). Once Unknown plays out, there is little depth or substance to make it stick in a viewer's mind other than to make sure all of the puzzle pieces actually fit together. While this keeps the film from achieving greatness, there's a lot worse you could say about a film than that it provides an engaging and entertaining two hours. It is certainly worth a rental, and unlike most films in the genre, the more cinematically well-versed you are in other thrillers, the better it works.
The Video ****½The 1080p high definition presentation is letterboxed to the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 and is encoded via the AVC codec. The purposely unnatural color palette and cinematic style are rendered darn near perfectly on this Blu-ray disc. It might not work as reference material for the capabilities of the Blu-ray format due to the high contrast, blown-out highlights, and unnatural lighting, but there is little doubt that it looks exactly as the director and cinematographer intended it to look.
The Audio ****½The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless encoding of the film's soundtrack provides a similarly outstanding experience. The mix presents an enveloping surround experience, especially during the film's action set-pieces such as the taxi crash that sets the film's events in motion. Quieter scenes are supported by low level ambience in the surrounds but the level of integration of the front and rear audio fields is at times inconsistent. The lossless encoding provides the outstanding fidelity one would expect from a modern production. Dolby Digital 5.1 alternate language dubs are provided in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Extras *When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promos presented in AVC encoded video:
- Warner Blu-ray Promo (1:53 - Dolby Digital 5.1)
- Green Lantern Theatrical Trailer (2:32 - Dolby Digital 2.0)
Proper extras are meager and consist of only two brief featurettes that are more promotional than informative:
Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero (4:33) is filled with praise for Neeson from his various collaborators as well as Neeson's thoughts on the material, his character, and the process of making the film. On camera comments are provided by Neeson ("Dr. Martin Harris"), Frank Langella ("Rodney Cole"), January Jones ("Liz Harris"), Director Jaume Collet-Serra, Producer Joel Silver, Diane Kruger ("Gina"), Production Designer Richard Bridgland, Aidan Quinn ("The Other Dr. Martin Harris"), and Stunt Coordinator Olivier Schneider (who also played "Smith").
Unknown: What is Known? (4:24) Is basically an extended commercial for the movie with cast members, director an producer singing each others praises. On-camera comments are provided by Neeson, Kruger, Jones, Silver, Langella, Collet-Serra, and Sebastian Koch ("Professor Bressler"),
Finally, as with most Blu-rays of Warner theatrical new releases, this two-disc set also includes a SD DVD with Digital Copy. This includes a bare bones SD DVD presentation of the theatrical cut of the film with Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio and a choice of English SDH, French, or Spanish subtitles. Also on the disc is a choice of either a Windows Media or iTunes digital copy of the film for portable media devices.