Review: Plot Holes in 'Unknown' Are Fun to Watch Neeson Punch In
by Jeremy Kirk
February 18, 2011
Unknown, the new film directed by Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, is 75% a decent thriller, a mystery that establishes itself, builds itself, and reveals itself with superlative pacing. There are some nice action pieces thrown in, as well, and Liam Neeson is no stranger to coming off intimidating when he needs to be. However, it's not a film that really asks the audience think too hard about what it presents. To do so is to discover the plot holes, contrivances, and all around banality that comes from zero attempt at originality. It's exciting, but the explosions roar through those holes like a bullet train entering a tunnel.
The film begins with Neeson's Dr. Martin Harris and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) landing in Berlin for a conference. Soon after landing, Martin is in a severe car accident that leaves him in a coma. When he awakens along with a slight case of amnesia, he discovers someone else (said someone played by Aidan Quinn) has taken his place, his wife acts as if she has no idea who she is, and Martin is left to sort out if there is a much larger conspiracy at work or if he truly is going crazy.
Never mind the fact the screenplay by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell probably would have worked better had we not had the prologue of the couple landing. Had Unknown opened with Martin awaking in the hospital, it would have created doubt in the mind of the audience, the idea that maybe the protagonist here really is crazy. That's not the way they went, though, and it's an almost inconsequential bump in a film already build on so much mystery.
That mystery is where the film gains most of its complimentary energy. In a day and age where spy thrillers are as common as graffiti on the walls of Berlin, it doesn't take much sorting out to know where the story is headed. With the aid of the driver of the cab in which his accident took place, played by Diane Kruger, and a former member of the East German State Security, played by Bruno Ganz, Martin pieces the clues of what is going on with a nice, comfortable level of confidence. Collet-Serra does a commendable job in keeping the film from ever getting bogged down in long-winded information dumps or silly moments of dim-witted actions on the parts of the villains. Before long, Martin finds himself being chased by mysterious and deadly men, and everyone appears to be acting in real-world situations. That's for the first 2/3 of the film.
There is a turning point in Unknown. It comes after many puzzle pieces are put into place, after Neeson hearkens back to his Taken days in throwing punches and elbows the bad guys' way, and after a relatively exciting car chase that stays away from utilizing goofy looking CG. The moment comes once Frank Langella as one of Neeson's colleagues enters the film. Suddenly Unknown, a film that was holding a solid grasp on its audience with the mystery it was building, becomes the very worst a Jason Bourne or even James Bond knockoff can offer.
Remember what was said earlier about stupid information dumps? That goes right out the window once the villains of the film are revealed, once the mystery and questions surrounding "Dr. Martin Harris" and the earlier events are answered. The goofy CGI comes into play. Bad guys begin monologuing to our hero for no other reason than to relay information to we the audience. Unknown devolves into eye-rolling moments of exposition and plot-hole laden twists and turns.
Of course, the elbows and explosions continue to rise up to the surface. The film almost appears to attempting distraction on its audience, throwing enough action their way to keep them from really sitting back and thinking about the events that are taking place. It's decent action, don't get me wrong. Collet-Serra has a nice way of framing such action, and the resulting set piece in the final moments of the film provides a very dynamically placed punch to the audience before sending them on their way. There's more ridiculous CGI strewn throughout the last third of Unknown. It's not easy to get around, but the energy and intensity thrown in around it almost makes up for it.
All the while Neeson gives Unknown a sense of sophistication. He plays Martin Harris delicately in the early moments. You believe this man is lost in this world and truly doesn't understand what is happening to him. However, once things heat up, so does Neeson's performance, and he once again puts a solid stamp on an action-oriented character. The connection between he and Kruger is evident, as well, much more so than between Neeson and Jones who plays Liz. The less said about her inflexible performance the better.
Despite where it goes, regardless of how hard the film derails logically at times, Unknown is a decent enough thriller, a solid mystery that never lets up when the action kicks in either. It really becomes a contradiction of a film in that it raises so many questions, offers its audience the opportunity to really think about what is taking place then flashes the shiny objects of quick action and flamboyant stunts to keep the audience from thinking too hard about it. The plot holes are definitely evident in Unknown, but their done so in such a way that it's undeniably entertaining watching them get punched in.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10