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Friday, 6 January 2012

Unknown Review

If you haven't seen this movie yet, allow me to save you the effort: It's basically The Bourne Identity, but with a tad more Identity confusion, and a lot less Krav Maga. That's it. I could wrap this up right now and you'd have a fairly accurate idea of how this movie plays out.

Whilst the beginning 30 minutes or so are intriguing, with the viewers not knowing whether Neeson's character really is being set up, or has just gone crazy, it pretty soon unfolds into an almost exact replica of Bourne. And whilst there is always that nagging thought in the back of your mind that maybe this is all in his head, or that there will be an even greater twist somehow, as we draw nearer and nearer the close, you realize that this really won't be anything special.

Let's count the similarities with Bourne, shall we?

  • Lead Character is pulled out of water at the beginning with no memory of who he is

  • This man finds himself the target of some kind of conspiracy - possibly Government agents, who want to silence him

  • He spends a large part of the movie hanging out with a German chick, and they get involved in a couple of car chases, with lots of crashes

  • Towards the end, he realizes the truth, that he is an assassin who set up a fake identity to help him take out a certain target, and since he woke up with no memory, has been using this identity as his own

  • He decides he wants out of the whole assassin program, and goes about trying to bring down the people who set the whole thing up

  • The mysterious hitman who is chasing him and never speaks wears glasses

I mean, how similar could these movies get? All joking aside - if you've seen The Bourne Identity, you might as well give this one a miss. Then again, if you haven't seen it and you've just read what I've typed, you might as well also give it a miss, since you know exactly what will happen. Oh, and also, welcome to the site - you must be new here.

The problem is, I really couldn't get past the similarities, and as much as I wanted to enjoy this film (I loved "Taken", and was informed by the reputable "Nuts" magazine that "Fans of Taken are gonna LOVE [Unknown]") - it seemed as though they had just decided to pirate the idea, and move things around very slightly. I was hopeful until very near the end we have have some kind of "Manchurian Candidate"-type twist come into effect, or even something like "Total Recall", although since he lost his memory completely by accident, that would have been a weird one to explain (falsly implanted memories. I'll see you at the party). But no - it's just Bourne, through and through. Just with a much lower bodycount, and not so many kick ass scenes.

If you know what I mean? Incidentally, whilst researching things relating to "Kick ass Bourne scenes" on Google, I came across a whole bunch of still from the Game - 'The Bourne Conspiracy'. Is it just me, or does it look identical to Splinter Cell Conviction?

The way in which the big bad guy of the piece is dispatched of also reminded me of Bourne, in how disappointing it was. I don't mean the death of Bourne's handler at the end was a let-down: That was a pleasant surprise. I mean the way in which the architect of the plan in Unknown dies felt like as much of a cop-out as Clive Owen's death in The Bourne Identity. I won't say exactly how it happens, in case there is anyone out there still planning on watching this, but since I've been looking for an excuse for ages to rant about how Owen's death ruined The Bourne Identity, I'll take up the next paragraph with that instead.

Haven't I suffered enough? I turned down playing Bond in Casino Royale but agreed to star in Shoot 'Em Up for fuck's sake!

The professor is the most badass villain imaginable. He never speaks, we rarely see him, yet he is ever present. He takes out Wombosi through a tiny window from a nearby rooftop with ease, and he traps Bourne and Co. in a farmhouse with no power, whilst he sits on a ridge with his Sig Sauer sniper rifle, waiting for a nice clean, juicy shot. Bourne, however, spoils his plans a little by obtaining a shotgun, and with this blows up some petrol tanks, causing a big enough distraction that he can make it to the woods before The Professor can take his shot. Now, here is where any other sniper would simply relocate and wait for Bourne to re-emerge to help his friends. Remember, The Professor is tooled-up, and has all the time in the world. But rather than do anything practical, he decides to follow Bourne down through the woodlands into an open field. Ok, so he wants him dead fast, and his Sig is a select fire model, so will still be fairly effective at closer range - who cares if he would have to completely re-zero the scope? He just takes it off - iron sight's good up to 400 yards. But then, when Bourne fires a shot on the edge of the field, The Professor, who is HIDDEN IN COVER, decides to put down his rifle, take out a handgun, and RUN ACROSS AN OPEN FIELD.


Cos I'm fucking waiting for him...

Seriously, that's close to being as bad as the sniping scene in The Hurt Locker, and was the only real let-down of that film. Clive Owen was such a badass in it (just watched Children of Men again last night, so back to Clive-loving, after that period of being ashamed to mention his name following Shoot Em Up), and was supposedly some kind of CIA super-assassin. The best short of Bourne. And yet he dies like a bitch, running across an open field. Here's a tip: if you're dealing with a guy who is armed with a shotgun, and you have a semi-automatic rifle with a 20 round magazine, and you're sitting in cover and can hear the direction his last shot came from - you're sorted. He can't see you, you know roughly how far he could be, and he's never going to hit you at the range anyway. So fuck you, Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron. And shame on you, Clive, for not insisting they give you a better death.

That's all I wanted to say about Bourne, so back to Unknown. The movie is fairly competently made, and is relatively enjoyable, yet for the most part isn't as thrilling as Bourne, despite the similarities. The camera work is all fine (though, again, having watched Children of Men last night, anything is going to look lazy by comparison), and they do build the characters quite well, but it was all a little lack-lustre.

As far as character building goes, the only insight we get into Diane Kruger's character's background is when she says about her family being hunted and killed in Bosnia in a similar manner to the way in which the Government agents were coming after her and Neeson, and again, this felt like one of those cheap gimmicks. Oh, let's just bring up Bosnia, and then her character will seem deep. Maybe if they'd said Kosovo, and made it so she was a Serb whose family was murdered by Albanians after Nato forced her country to withdraw its police and military forces so they could set up their own puppet Government in the region it would have added character depth:

(a) because the Bosnian thing has been done so many times before, (b) because the political criticism of NATO's attacks on Serbia which led to the genocide of 850,000 Serbs is never mentioned in films and would actually make a nice change from the Serbs being the bad guys, and (c) Because Diane Kruger looks about as Bosnian as I do Columbian, but could probably pass as an ethnic Serb.

And before someone links me to a previous "Miss Bosnia" who is Blonde and Germanic looking, please research her on Wikipedia, and look to see if she is an ethnic Serb Bosnian (a.k.a The kind of Bosnian who wouldn't have been hunted down by Ratko Mladic, the ethnic Serb Bosnian)

But no, we get the old Bosnia line, and we're so used to it now that it's just in passing (And Angelina Jolie thinks she can make an entire film out of this? Pffff...). Shit, at least in House when they had the genocide "victim", it later turned out that he wanted to kill Darth Vader because he had been one of the child soldiers actually participating in the genocide who had grown up and gotten a conscience, and thus made a nice change. But, I guess having Diane Kruger say "They're going to hunt us down just as my father hunted down the Bosnians" probably wouldn't have stirred up much sympathy.

This picture is actually on Page 2 on Google if you type in "Serbians". I'm not even kidding. It's probably the first image result for "Bosnian Serbs". Wouldn't surprise me.

So, disappointing on many levels - the car chases are well done, but again, are so similar to Bourne we're forced to compare them, and Bourne comes out on top. Kruger's character has a more bland backstory than The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the big twist at the end has been done a thousand times before. Not to mention, they included Frank Langella as the big bad guy behind the attempts on Neeson's life and the whole set-up, and have you EVER seen him play the hero in a movie? The man is most famous for playing Richard Nixon these days for God's sake! That's like casting Steven Berkoff in that kind of role and being surprised when people figure out he's the villain. Or casting Michael Ironside in a film where it's supposed to be a huge surprise when he loses a limb somehow:

I am actually starting to suspect Michael Ironside genuinely doesn't have a left arm, since he's lost it in 3 of the films I've seen him in...

Though, in spite of this, one of the best scenes in the film is between Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz, when Ganz realizes who Langella is. Still, overall this film was a big disappointment, especially because Diane Kruger didn't do her incredibly over-the-top sexy German accent from Inglourious Basterds the whole time.

What can I say? I know what I like. And I like over-acting. Sexy, sexy overacting.

So, you know, watch this movie if you want - it's reasonably fun, and a good way to kill 90 minutes or however long it was, but don't go in expecting too much. This is nothing like Taken, and it's not as good as Bourne. But, take it at face value as a generic action flick, and you might find you enjoy it, especially when things first start getting tense for Neeson's character.



2 Stars

Unoriginal, and not overly-gripping, but probably still worth a watch. I would definitely recommend The Bourne identity over this, and Taken over that. And possibly The Killing Machine over that, though that's a tighter call. This film is fairly decent, solidly made (unless you are comparing it to Children of Men, say), but is predictable as anything and really brings nothing new to the table. Maybe if you see it in the bargain bin pick it up, or if you can catch it on TV (hopefully without adverts - which fucking RUINED sunshine for me. Though, Escape From LA was still enjoyable with them left in, given how little it depended on mood and atmosphere by comparison) but otherwise I really wouldn't bother. Still, it's way better than The Hurt Locker, and that won 6 Oscars - so who knows, maybe my tastes in films is just ridiculous? Now if you'll excuse me, I have a brand new copy of "Hard Boiled" which needs breaking in...


Since I mentioned I watched Children of Men last night, I'll bring this up here: when the film was over, my brother and I had a conversation along these lines:

Him: Do you know any other films by the same director?

Me: I know he did the third Harry Potter film, and I'm fairly sure he did the American version of Great Expectations, but that's all I can think of.

Him: Didn't he do 28 Weeks later?

Me: Fuck, I hope not! That movie was awful! That would be a hell of a step-down for him...

Him: Hmmm... Maybe you're right. It's just I noticed some directoral similarities between the two was all. Maybe it was Guillermo Del Torro who did 28 Weeks later?

Me: I think that's a pretty big step-down for him, too - after Pan's Labyrinth and Blade 2.

Him: I dunno. I get all these Spanish directors confused anyway...

I actually had to check IMDB afterwards to make sure I didn't have to kill myself, which I would have if 28 weeks later was directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n, just on general principles.

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