15 May 2011

Movie Review


Liam Neeson is one of my favorite current actors but, unfortunately, his brilliant performance is not enough to save this movie from being a mediocre thriller that is only partially satisfying.  In this film, Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a man primarily concern with reuniting with his wife after he loses his memory in a car wreck, along with (apparently) every last proof of identification.  The amnesia is a necessary, if cliché, plot device that works well enough for its purposes.  However, the fact that Dr. Harris happens to lose every piece of identification is a little too convenient, and so the premise seems somewhat forced from the start.

The movie spends a good portion of its time trying to show that Dr. Harris is up against a bunch of Really Bad Men, and that he is also a sympathetic underdog.  To accomplish this, Dr. Martin faces a variety of different bad men who try to kill him.  The specific reason for this is not revealed until the end, so a good portion of the movie is spent trying to convince the viewer to believe that being confused is the same as being held in suspense.  During these repeated attempts on his life, Martin shows his sensitive and thoughtful side to the nurse who helped save him and the taxi driver who pulled him out of the wreck.

The taxi driver, an Eastern European illegal immigrant by the name of Gina, is played by Diane Kruger.  Kruger, like Neeson, has a wonderful performance in this film, and is generally a joy to watch.  This stands in marked contrast to January Jones, who plays Dr. Martin’s wife.  Jones does her best to suck the soul out of every scene in which she appears.  She often appears cold, which seems quite fitting.

Dr. Martin eventually meets up with a private detective, who turns out to be ex-KGB.  For some reason, once the ex-agent discovers that Dr. Martin is actually a spy, he calls Martin’s handler to Germany and then commits suicide.  The reasons for this are never really explained.  After that, Martin’s handler uses Mrs. Martin to set her “husband” up at an airport where they then detain and capture him.  They then take him away to kill him, but their attempt at killing him fails because a) they spend too much time explaining to him that he was a spy sent to kill some crazy scientist, that he wasn’t actually married, and that he was the one who originally planned the mission and b) Gina decides to track down his would-be killers and save him.

Martin then remembers why he quit being a spy, and so he returns to the scene of his soon-to-occur crime to set things right.  He has to convince an incredulous security staff that he’s a spy recovering from amnesia and that he planted a bomb in the crazy scientist’s suite in order to kill him.  His oral arguments fail to convince the security staff, so he turns to a more convincing rejoinder:  beating the crap out of them until he escapes.  Naturally enough, he averts the assassination, although he is unable to prevent the bomb he concealed earlier from going off.  He then miraculously remembers his hand-to-hand combat training just in time to fight the spy who replaced him on this mission, leading to a rather disappointing fight scene.  The movie ends shortly after that, showing him leaving on a train with Gina, content to start a new life with her.

As noted before, this movie never rises above the level of mediocre.  There are two main reasons for this, the first of which is that the movie is basically the Bourne trilogy, except with an older guy and more plot holes.  But, the director didn’t want this movie to be just another Bourne ripoff; it had to be its own movie.  And so, the decision was made to make the plot about ten times stupider, which did, in fact, make this movie remarkably distinct from the Bourne series.

The other major problem with the movie is that the pacing is just too slow.  Pretty much all movies require some suspension of disbelief, especially since movies generally require some element of fantasy.  In order to help people suspend disbelief, movies must have a relatively high degree of realism and appropriate pacing.  Lower degrees of realism generally require fast pacing, because the audience must not be allowed to contemplate just how ludicrous the plot really is.  Unknown’s problem is that it allows the audience to consider just how downright cliché and convenient the plot is.  It’s a 90-minute movie stretched into two hours.

Unknown does have some entertaining moments, and, as noted before, both Neeson and Kruger are fun to watch.  However, the plot is simply too incoherent and the film is too slowly paced to be very enjoyable.  I suppose that this is worth a viewing if you’re bored and have nothing else to do.  Of you have a life, your time would be better spent doing other things.

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