Unknown is obliged to give us a twist we never saw coming. If it didn't, then it would just be spinning its wheels. We know that Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) has been in a car accident with cab driver, Gina (Diane Kruger), and has now seemingly lost his identity. He awakens from a coma with no ID to his wife who no longer recognizes him. He franticly tries to piece together the clues to find out why his identity was "taken" (I couldn't resist).
I don't want to give you any more information because it's simply unnecessary. The film has been marketed well to make you think you know what will happen, only to be blind-sided later. The twist I mentioned earlier is so preposterous--so ridiculously far out in left field--that when it's unveiled, you won't believe it's the truth. And you know what? I loved it.
The twist doesn't betray what we already know. It somehow, some way fits into the film. There is an absurd fascination in this project that takes its collages of clues and makes them memorable. Unknown has too many pieces for its own good, but the final product is what audiences will treasure. You won't soon forget this film.
But enough about the twist. The elements that build this film are where the road gets bumpy. The movie has a great opening and closing act, but to fill time, the screenplay doesn't add to either element. It just clutters them. A few false leads have to be thrown into a thriller like this, but Unknown has nothing but dead leads, creating a frustrating middle section of empty action and energy.
That's not to say that the film is not entertaining. It is. And for two very different reasons. Firstly, the action is splendidly directed and shot. Each car chase and shootout is intense and beautifully captured. The camerawork is smooth, the music is energetic, and the film is well-paced. But Unknown is also entertaining because of many unintentionally funny moments. The dialogue is painfully cheesy. There are also some continuity errors. Take when Neeson is showering and he hears men breaking into the apartment he is in. He escapes out a window, but he is instantaneously fully-clothed--shoes, jacket, everything. Also, how does he obtain his money after the accident? Whether it's paying cab drivers or making phone calls, he always seems to have just enough on hand.
One of the funniest moments comes when Gina is driving in a van, trying to find Martin. Meanwhile, Martin is in a parking garage talking with an old associate. Their discussion becomes heated, and Martin shouts at him. But driving nearly two blocks away, Gina turns and looks at the garage when she hears his shout-through a closed car window!
One of the more frustrating things about this film, and it comes with any film of its kind, is the remembrance of information from the amnesiac patient. Martin remembers key things when the screenplay demands it, but there is no real rhyme or reason to what he can or can't remember. Can he remember the large details that would answer the main questions to the plot? Of course not. Otherwise we wouldn't have a movie. But can he remember the six-number combination on his briefcase? Most assuredly. The little details aren't all too important.
Unknown never takes itself too seriously, but that is part of its problem. I feel that the film actually had the potential to be really good. It has a great setup, smart characters, terrific action, and a fantastic twist. But some of the moments are so lazily underwhelming, that it forfeits its own potential. Thankfully, the cast is more motivated than the crew. Neeson, Kruger, and a supporting cast including Frank Langella and January Jones all put fire into their performances. But even their convincing performances can't outshine all of the material.
The ending is also rather unsatisfying. After all is said and done, we don't get a conclusion. Nothing really falls into place, it just stops moving. The trauma and intensity cease too quickly. The end is too mellow and light; too fragile for its own good. Characters also make rough transformations from beginning to end. But the ending is only one of the problems littered throughout this film.
Unknown doesn't work. But I almost want to recommend it. There were many moments that caught me entirely off-guard. The film looks beautiful. It's well-acted, well-edited, and unique. Unknown is a film that grows on you after viewing it. The screenplay is dead, there are superfluous characters, the dialogue is corny, there are errors in continuity, and the ending is abrupt. But amidst all of its errors, the film will do one thing for you that maybe no other film has or possibly ever will do in 2011: It will catch you by surprise.