Liam Neeson was somewhat reinvented when Taken came around. The dramatic actor, who is quite prolific, was suddenly seen for the badass that he's capable of playing; his voice, so perfect for the grizzled, manly, deadly roles, it was a natural transition. He went past being an action star, and became a cinematic man's man, capable of carrying any genre or work. It's a great late-career renaissance for a good man, especially in the face of his personal tragedies. Now a big name actor like never before (imagine Darkman nowadays!), a talent to write parts around, in mind for, Neeson has worked magic and has saved some films that would have been direct-to-video trash if he weren't involved. Now, they're must see affairs. Such is the ability of a truly talented man.
In his latest effort, where his name gets a font size almost bigger than the title of the film, Neeson is called upon to bring his A-game and pull the entire film. From mystery, suspense, and intrigue, handling a more human story, which turns into an action fest in need of an experienced lead hand, Neeson had to bring all sorts of awesome to the table in Unknown. Fortunately, he knew exactly how much to bring, and even though he dominates the film, the seasoned, amazing cast found in this suspense thriller keep the world around him interesting, believably tense and dangerous.
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) arrives in Berlin along with his wife (January Jones) to give a speech at an important summit. A simple mistake leads him to a different path in Germany, though, as a car accident that nearly kills him leaves his brain scrambled, in a coma for four days, with his memories jumbled up. Returning to the hotel he was to stay at, Harris is refused entrance, and even his wife disputes his identity. Another man (Aidan Quinn), one who, unlike Harris, has identification, is taking his place. There's a conspiracy afoot, and while the real Harris is dodging men seeking to silence him, he is also trying to piece his life together, with the help of the woman responsible for the crash (Diane Kruger), and the assistance of a former member of the secret police (Bruno Ganz). What he discovers, he may not like.
Unknown has its strengths and its faults. For example, I never really knew that Germany had so many people speaking English. It's..a tad ridiculous how much there is in the film. Overly convenient, to be sure. The setting for the film is perfect, and the mysterious city that has seen many drastic changes is a wonderful place for a story about mistaken, disavowed identity. The story, reliant on plot twists, can take its toll on the audience, and can seem a bit much, over the almost two hour runtime, but its saving grace is the talent on screen to save it, and keep even the extreme and sometimes ridiculous believable and borderline fascinating. The mysteries, varying in degree, that Harris has to decipher as he figures out what is going on, they're good, but where they lead is a bit frustrating at times. A smidge ridiculous.
Where Unknown excels is the cast. Holy shla-moley is this an amazingly cast film. There's talent coming out the film's proverbial eyeballs. Neeson, of course, is leading man material, so he's a given. Jones is a rising star, and Kruger, who gets higher billing and more screen time, is a much better performer, believable in the role that requires a bit more work to believe. Quinn is great in every element his role entails, and keeps the film mysterious by not being so blatantly obvious about it. The real stars of the show, though, are Bruno Ganz (Downfall's Hitler), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon's Nixon), and Sebastian Koch (Black Book, The Lives of Others), who is somewhat wasted, as the German actor, playing in Germany, is doing his English thing. Actually, he's given so little to say, his constant presence just scream's "let me talk!" These three talented veterans add so much spice to the film, it's amazing it didn't get even more praise and respect than it already did.
The suspense element of the film works, as little hints of action are thrown in to keep the later transition a bit less jarring, albeit not enough so. The intrigue behind the story is good, and the actual twist itself (the reveal about who everyone really is) is quite good, definitely enough to feature a film around. It's not forced, and the twists in the twist, when you think you've already figured it out, it keeps the film from being boring, as the story you've convinced yourself on is just a bit different, enough so that the misleads work. This film is full of tension, no matter what genre it's working in, so it's still an interesting watch that isn't a film where you'll find yourself loving half but hating the other. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, the man behind Orphan, tries to apologize for that mistake here, and you really will find yourself forgiving him for the crapfest that was Esther, or even his directorial debut, House of Wax (05 remake). Unknown will make you actually anticipate seeing more from him, as well.
Warner's transfer for Unknown on Blu-ray looks good, and is quite possibly 100% accurate to the filmmaker's desires and intentions. However, it has some elements that are a smidge unappealing to the eyes. The 1080p encode doesn't suffer from banding, even in obvious areas that would be hit hard otherwise, DNR, or artifacting. There is a slight alias here and there, nothing major, and some random edge issues, on again off again over enhancements that can distract a tad. Noise spikes dramatically in one prolonged sequence, then disappears for good. The film has a weird blue tint to it in many areas, and that can affect eyes and teeth sometimes, sadly. Detail levels are amazing, though, and there isn't a soft shot to be found. Textures are phenomenal consistently, as well. On Blu-ray, yes, you get a massive improvement over DVD on Unknown. You just also see more of the visual errs.
Unknown has one flavor for English on its Blu-ray: the default English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. It's a pretty damn good one, too, even if the film doesn't support full speaker use due to its changes in intimacy levels, from the soft, reserved mystery to the action elements of the final portions of the film. Directionality is proper, and as the film gets more manly, and less suspense-y, the rears, bass, range, they all peak, making the film seem somewhat two tone. Because it is. There's some serious thump in the finale of the film that will knock over anything on your shelves...that's usually the sign of awesome bass for me! Rears do get enough throughout the film, but in the opening half, it's really light. It really hits its stride as the film rolls on.
Limited Edition combo packs include a slipcover, and combo DVD/Digital Copy disc.
Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero
Unknown: What is Known?
Unknown may hit store shelves as a bit of a mystery to many, but it has all the elements in place to be successful. A solid script, an amazing cast, and enough intrigue to keep you in your seat from beginning to end. It doesn't hold your hand through the journey, either, making it a success, albeit not a genre redefining one. The Blu-ray release for Unknown is very good, but a step below excellent, and features little in terms of supplements. Give it at least a rent, but do consider a blind purchase. This film readily invites a repeat viewing or two.
And it's a hell of a lot better than the 2006 film of the same name.