by Bret Dorman
In 2008, Liam Neeson starred in a little action movie called Taken. It was a pretty good action movie that put Neeson on a straight forward mission to save his daughter and featured the most ‘throat chops delivered by a person in a movie’ to date. Unknown hints that it may be an ‘action Euro-mission’ pseudo sequel to Taken, but if anything, its more like a slower paced pseudo prequel.
The Story: Dr. Martin Harris is going to some conference in Berlin. That is until he gets into a car accident and falls into a mini coma. When he wakes up he finds he’s been… replaced! Now he must ‘fight’ to get his life (and wife?) back. Also, Diane Kruger drives a taxi.
I’ve often stated my dislike of ‘Mistaken Identity’ movies and this one is no exception. I know what’s going to happen but no one on screen does or they have to spend most the movie trying to get people to believe them. Now, Unknown actually has a fair amount of good twists and turns and keeps the pace going nicely, but when all is said and done, they could have condensed the movie into a shorter one to let more action take over at the end.
Liam Neeson as Dr. Martin Harris (Or is he? Ooooooo!) is perfectly sublime. He treats the role with just the right amount of crazy, grumbling one liners with a hint of Darkman (a criminally under rated action movie). The movie takes itself seriously (as it should) but Neeson’s deliveries of some of the lines shows that he is probably one of the best in the business of making one liners corny and super awesome at the same time.
Speaking of super awesome, Diane Kruger is absolutely gorgeous and brings her role of innocent taxi driver pulled into this by mistake a certain level of otherwise believability. And Bruno Ganz as Jurgen, an old Secret Service like guy, is fantastic. In fact, everyone in this movie does a good to great job except January Jones, who is outclassed in every scene she’s in (even if its just her and ‘Receptionist’).
Even the pace and control of the camera during the action scenes were handled well. Nothing about this movie was poorly done once they decided on a story. But… its the story they decided to tell I have the biggest problem with.
The previews and blurbs for this movie make it seem like its going to be ‘action packed’. Just like any preview for an action movie would. Only this isn’t an action movie. Its more of a spy-like thriller, with two and a half sort of action scenes in it. The movie isn’t about Neeson ‘fighting to get his life back’, its about him ‘making desperate calls and going up to people who think he’s crazy and shouting at them ‘I’M NOT CRAZY!’ to which they think he’s even more crazier. Its more about talking and discovery than fisticuffs.
But I don’t blame the marketing. People like action. That’s what lures them in. People still like spy-ish thrillers, but not as many. So you’re not going to market a spy-ish thriller as one when you have just enough action moments to throw them into a trailer. But if not as many people like what you are going to give them so you are going to tell them something different anyway, why not just give them what they want in the first place? Right?
What I mean is the heart is in the right spot and the filmmaking isn’t bad or hard to watch. Seeing Liam Neeson dominate the screen and mumble to himself is ALWAYS fun. But don’t just make mediocre stuff with the cast and skills you have, make something really good.
Okay first of all I want to say moments like the Bruno Ganz/Frank Langella confrontation are great. I eat them up. They are super melodramatic and corny, but put in context and delivered on the calber they were, they become awesome. Not ‘groan’ awesome like so many action movies ‘strive’ for, but ‘fist pump’ awesome. I love it.
Okay, so here’s my beef though. Neeson is a super duper awesome agent who ends up believing his cover. Great. Explains why he can fight the guy sent to kill him (before needing to be saved by a girl) and can drive cars like his name is Frank Martin (The Transporter). But once its out that he is a super duper awesome agent he suddenly grows a conscience. Okay, I’ll buy it. But then he only gets one fight in. Its a decent fight but come on.
Also, the whole big flashback at the end added absolutely nothing to the movie. No new info was discovered. That was the biggest asterisk in a movie I’ve ever seen. Its like, “Oh, just in case you missed it when we just explained it ten minutes ago…”
This story was meant more for a tv show. Season One: Learning the truth. Season Two: Getting revenge. Season Three: Escape. And then it gets cancelled. I mean, I don’t mind having a story with not a lot of action and building up the characters, but this movie could have been so much more. I don’t know, maybe we will get a sequel where he does try to put an end to this organization, but most of the dilly dallying in this movie could have been cut out and the whole thing shortened to the first half or so.
I know that speeding up the movie might remove some of the ‘punch of the discoveries’ made, but ultimately this movie is just a thrill ride. I’m all for giving it the Crank treatment and just keeping the foot on the gas and go go go! By then end there would have been SO much the punch would have greater because there were more of them.
In conclusion: Maybe if it had a different cast I would like it ‘better’. But Neeson doesn’t need to be wasting him time trying to convince people he is awesome. This movie could have been a stepping stone for someone who needed one. Instead of making a pseudo prequel to Taken, Sam Raimi and Neeson should make a pseudo sequel to Darkman. That’s what the action genre needs…
Final Grade B-