Case Number 21597


Warner Bros. // 2011 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 20th, 2011

The Charge

It's not about what you know, but what you don't.

Opening Statement

Is it just me, or is Liam Neeson everywhere these days? Action movies. Comic book reboots. Star Wars sequels. I mean, good Lord, is there nothing that man can't do? Apparently not, and as proof here comes Unknown on Blu-ray care of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to prove it.

Facts of the Case

As he attends a biotechnology conference in Germany with his wife Liz (January Jones, TV's Mad Men, X-Men: First Class), Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins) finds himself the victim of a seemingly tragic auto accident. When Dr. Martin comes to in a local hospital he finds himself disoriented and in search of his wife after learning he's been out for over four days. When Dr. Martin finally tracks down his wife he is shocked to find that Liz not only doesn't recognize him, but also says she is married to another man...claiming to be the real Dr. Martin Harris (Adian Quinn, Benny & Joon). Without any identification to prove who he is and staring down the possibility that his whole life may be one big illusion, Dr. Harris enlists the help of a cab driver (Diane Kruger, Wicker Park) to help him put the missing pieces together; which quickly morph into a terrifying web of lies, deceit and international secrets.

The Evidence

Liam Neeson sure did get a second chance at the movies. Known previously for his mostly dramatic work (Schindler's List, Michael Collins) and supporting roles (Love Actually, K-19: The Widowmaker), Neeson shot to action movie status with the release of the hit Taken, a thunderous thriller that was far better than it had any right to be. Following up Taken with the feature film remake of the TV show The A-Team as well as a supporting role as the mighty Zeus in the Clash of the Titans reboot, Neeson is suddenly a hot commodity in all things explosive.

Unknown feels like the filmmakers are trying to capitalize on Taken's success, or at least that's what the promotional materials want you to think. The movie is far more a thriller and than an action film -- there's far more dialogue than gunfire during its two hour run time. Yes, there are moments of action and some explosions, but the film is suspense all the way and almost Hitchcockian in nature. Due to all the secrets that are slowly revealed in the film I won't go into too many plot details (lest I get angry letters from readers saying I spoiled the surprises). The movie itself is serviceable at best but never really rises above the genre to become something truly special.

Much praise goes to Neeson for being a sturdy, reliable action movie star. Although he showed some small signs of this in pervious films (mostly in the 1990 Sam Raimi comic book-like Darkman), it was never as apparent as the last few years that Neeson has the chops to be a kick ass, bad mother-humpin' action hero. Neeson's work here is subtle but sturdy -- he plays confused anger better than anyone in the business. His supporting players are acceptable if underwhelming -- Oscar nominee Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) is given far too little to do as one of the key players in the plot's twists and turns. The female talent is split down the middle of bad and good -- Diane Kruger is compelling as the taxi driver who gets sucked into Dr. Harris's world but January Jones is as icy and distant as her namesake; her eyes suggest a vacancy as wide as the Bates Motel.

Unknown tends to stretch the boundaries of reasonable plausibility that it feels like a cinematic rubber band. Maybe the most ridiculous is the fact that Liam Neeson is married to a woman almost three decades younger than him. It may seem inconsequential, but I jut couldn't get past the fact that Neeson and Jones seemed as well matched as a toddler and plastic dry cleaner's bags.

I know it sounds like I'm down on Unknown. As much as I think it's a flawed movie, there are aspects that also worked for me. I very much enjoyed the first half of the film, before any of the big "reveals" happened. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who also helmed the House of Wax remake and Orphan) keeps things moving along at a pace that is never too slow but also doesn't feel like a shaky cam sequel to one of the Bourne movies. The first half is so good, in fact, that's why the second half feels like such a letdown -- the writers, director and actors just weren't able to maintain that suspense and mystery once the big reveal is explained.

So, viewers are left with half a good movie and half a not-so-good movie. I wanted to like Unknown more than I did but found that I just couldn't look past some of the glaring plot holes (some so large that Stephen Hawking thinks they may swallow up our universe in a matter of years). If you enjoyed Taken I think you may get a kick out of Unknown; just don't expect the same slam-bang pace and story.

Unknown is presented in a fantastic looking 2.40:1 widescreen transfer in 1080p resolution. My complaints about the film may be many, but I can't say the same about this picture -- Warner has made sure that the film's original look is clearly and wonderfully represented here. Skin tones are clear as a bell and the landscape is dotted with precision (you can see each individual leaf on the trees in some shots). I didn't notice any defects in this transfer; it's a great effort by the studio and should please fans of the film.

The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is as impressive as the image quality. This is a very immersive sound mix that has a lot to work with -- aside of the obvious ambient noises and background effects there are also plenty of moments for the rear speakers to show off their stuff. Car chases, crowded airports and explosions all add to the experience of this sound mix. Dialogue, music and effects are all evenly recorded and easily distinguishable. Also included on this disc are Dolby 5.1 Surround mixes in English, Spanish and Portuguese; as well as English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.

The extra features on this disc are much more underwhelming. All fans get are two short featurettes ("Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero" and "Unknown: What is Known?"), both of which are around 4-5 minutes in length and nothing more than fluffy promotional pieces. Also included in this set is a digital copy of the film and a bonus standard DVD version.

Closing Statement

Unknown sails on a good beginning and then loses its way by the last half of the film. The movie has a strong supporting cast (save for January Jones) and is slick, professional and, unfortunately, often derivative. Warner's work on the audio and video presentation of this disc are strong.

The Verdict

Unknown's problem is a plot that is too well known.

Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 97
Audio: 98
Extras: 72
Acting: 85
Story: 74
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurettes
* Digital Copy
* DVD Copy

* IMDb

* Cinema Verdict Review