'Unknown' proves unnecessary, unwatchably dull

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Daily Arts Writer
Published February 20, 2011

Unknown are the reasons why anyone would want to see the 2011 film starring Liam Neeson (“Taken”) and January Jones (TV’s “Mad Men”) of the same title.


At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros.

Correction: Unknown are the reasons why anyone should see the film. After all, its draw is understandable. Captivating, cryptic trailers that, arguably, give away too much of the plot. Car chases. Explosions. January Jones. The promise of a new and improved “Bourne Identity.” The allure is definitely there. Unfortunately, that’s all this film has going for it.

When Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) awakes from a car accident-induced coma four days after arriving in Berlin for a medical conference, no one believes that he is who he says he is. This includes the police, doctors, hotel clerks, fellow conference-goers and even his wife Elizabeth (Jones). Too bad for Martin that he left his briefcase, which contains his identification, at the airport and doesn’t remember doing it. The plot thickens when he reaches the conference to discover there is already a Dr. Martin Harris there, standing with his arm around his wife.

Possibly the most chilling moment of the film comes when Martin taps his wife on the shoulder. She turns around in a gorgeous, backless velvet gown, looks at him blankly and then asks: “Do I know you?” The haunting factor of this scene, of course, comes from Jones. With her icy blue eyes, perfect platinum hair, porcelain skin and hollow stare, she keeps the mystery alive. From the beginning, it’s difficult to say whether she is an innocent bystander in the trauma unfolding before her husband or an accomplice in his undoing. She is the real star of the film, which would have been far better off including more of her.

Every other aspect “Unknown” is, in a word, boring. Dr. Harris quickly discovers that it is not all in his head, becomes desperate to prove his identity, meets a convenient old man who “finds people” and teams up with the poor girl with the bad German accent (Diane Kruger, “Inglorious Basterds”) who was driving the taxi when he crashed. Yawn.

These plot points, while not necessarily predictable, are just not exciting enough. With each plot development the story becomes more tiresome and less believable. Even the big plot twist that is meant to make audiences’ jaws drop doesn’t. It’s not that the audience isn’t surprised when it happens. They just don’t care anymore. By the time the race to stop the ticking bomb begins, they have lost interest entirely.

The film’s sole redeeming quality, besides Jones, is its direction. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan”) employs cinematic techniques that entice the audience and communicate the film’s suspense and desperation well. The faded color palette of Neeson’s perpetually grim surroundings capture the feel of Berlin. The subtle experimentation with focusing messes with the viewer’s head in the same way that Dr. Harris’s is being tampered with. Unfortunately for Collet-Serra, good direction and a hot blonde aren’t enough to carry a film.