Unknown (2011)

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

Unknown is a surprisingly good film.  Surprising in that I enjoyed it despite my cynicism and reluctance to accept Liam Neeson as an action star.  Good pacing is essential to films like this, and Unknown keeps moving Neeson forward and the action flowing steadily.

The similarities to the Bourne series are unavoidable, as the story is of a man suffering from memory loss and confusion over his identity, who is eventually revealed to be an assassin.  Yet Unknown is still a good action film, and the film as a whole an original entity.

A stylistic resemblance to Minority Report is also noticeable.  This film is pumped so full of blue and green tints it may as well be underwater.  A recent criticism of Hollywood recently has been that it adds too much blue and orange to their movies, as the colours contrast well on screen.  I didn’t see much orange through the film, but the aqua visuals were quite distracting at times.

For me at least, the most engaging aspect of Unknown was the mystery around Neeson’s character’s identity.  Until it was explained, I was lost as to how two men could both be claiming to be Martin Harris.  Almost all of the film was a mystery, making it far more intriguing than most action films.

The most interesting aspect of Unknown is how it uses the viewer’s understanding of a character against them.  I struggled with making sense of the story because I assumed that Neeson’s character always was Harris, or at least believed he was.  The twist reveals this as false – before the crash Neeson is fully aware that Martin Harris doesn’t exist.  Unknown plays with the notion that we mostly know what we need to about the protagonist of our films, even if we don’t understand other characters.  Though Jason Bourne was in a similar situation, we generally knew as much as he did.  He didn’t know his true identity, but neither did we.  And when he finally found out his real name, we were there.  Unknown’s deceives us by omission, and that lie works in its favour.


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