Blu-Ray Review: Unknown (2011)
The theatrical marketing campaign for Unknown was determined to convince audiences that it was Taken in Berlin. While I can see why Warner Brothers would be keen to piggyback on that massive hit with the same star in a similar European setting, ultimately I think the comparison did their movie a disservice. Unknown is not Taken 2, and fans expecting the sort of non-stop action and ass-kicking that that movie delivered probably came away disappointed. But Unknown is a very tight Euro-thriller in its own right; it’s just a mystery with action rather than an action movie with a mystery. And when the action comes, it’s handled very well by director Jaume Collet-Serra; you can always tell exactly what’s going on and the sequences manage to be impressive while not being flashy or over-edited.
|Screen captures reflect DVD picture, not Blu-ray|
The Man Who Haunted Himself, by the way) seemed preposterous enough that I figured there was no way the filmmakers could provide a satisfactory resolution to their intriguing mystery, but happily I was wrong. That they do ultimately pull that off (one that’s not merely satisfactory, in fact, but satisfying—and surprising!) is no small accomplishment.
Out of My Head, so I have no idea how faithful the movie is to its source material.) Just a few minutes into the film, we’re already familiar with the primary characters, their situation and the setting. Despite the expediency of the set-up, Collet-Serra still has time for some great wintery Berlin scenery, which serves not only as pleasing eye candy, but also helps set the tone of the movie. All of this unfolds beneath some very stylish credits. The credits are representative, in fact, of the film to come. They aren’t especially showy David Fincher-type credits, and they don’t comprise a spectacular mini-film in their own right the way Bond titles do, but they’re classy and good looking.
The 39 Steps, Martin quickly gets her mixed up in his deadly situation even though she’s completely innocent, and inadvertantly brings death to her doorstep. Suddenly the two are thrust together on an adventure that takes them through rave clubs (the post-Alias equivalent of the old Eurospy nightclub scene, replete with house music, flashing colored lights and blue-haired, pierced beauties—an environment in which Liam Neeson seems very out of place!) and the snowy streets of Berlin in a breakneck car chase. It’s not Bullitt, but once again, you can follow the action, tell what’s going on. And the inevitable resulting crash even involves cable cars on tracks! (That’s exactly the sort of thing I want to see in any Europe-set spy movie worth its salt.)
“Curiosity,” he replies.
“Is that all?”
“There’s not much in this world left to interest an old spy like me,” says Jürgen, invoking that favorite Le Carré theme of the old spy who can’t stop spying.
Overall, spy fans will find a lot to please them in Unknown. It offers a great genre star in a great genre setting (one of the classic spy movie locations, too long unused!), cinematography that makes the most of both, cool chases and crashes involving cable cars, beautiful women, a top-notch supporting cast (which also includes cool turns by Frank Langella and The Lives of Others’ Sebastian Koch in small parts) and even some clever nods to genre antecedents as disparate as Le Carré, Ludlum and Mission: Impossible. (There’s an unexpected variation on Jim Phelps’ traditional briefing of his team toward the end.) Best of all, it offers all of these elements in a tight story that packs some genuine and satisfying twists. I could think of plenty of worse ways for a spy fan to pass a few hours.