The next title on this week's list is the Liam Neeson thriller Unknown, which also arrives from Warner Home Video in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. Here's my review.
One of my friends jokingly remarked that we might be starting a whole genre of films where an angry Liam Neeson gets revenge on and/or beats up people, not unlike the Mel Gibson of such movies like Payback. After seeing Unknown I think he was right - and at least to me, Neeson is a much more interesting actor to watch than Gibson. Having said that, Unknown basically boils down to a basic thriller, if an ambitious one.
The problem with thrillers is that when they prompt you to try and unravel the story, they also invite you to start poking holes in it. And Unknown has quite a few. The inciting incident sees Neeson's character, Dr. Martin Harris, let someone load his luggage at the airport. Has he never heard the thousand different speeches and/or warnings about not letting other people touch your luggage? It starts there and it goes on. I'm all for suspension of disbelief...to a point. As a writer, I love crafting mysteries, but I think you must also always remind yourself that they must be resolved to both your and the audience's satisfaction. Unknown doesn't quite get there. Whenever somebody has to explain things to the hero (and therefore the audience), I call shenanigans.
Neeson does his gravelly-voiced best with the material, though (I certainly wouldn't want to make him angry), and Diane Kruger (Troy) is fine as the cab driver who acts as his principal ally. I've never quite been sold on January Jones, but Mad Men fans will ostensibly enjoy seeing her, and Aidan Quinn is the guy everyone seems to believe is Liam Neeson. Everyone except us, of course, because we know better. And knowing better is what ultimately sinks this film for me. I applaud it for trying, but I just can't get past the questions and nagging doubts that it engendered. Certainly, though, I'm known for being a rather cerebral film viewer, so perhaps those less nerdy than me will be able to enjoy the ride more than I did.
The Blu-Ray Discs
As with all Blu-Ray releases, the packaging for Unknown is standard and therefore without issues.
Though the movie itself is shaky, the transfer for Unknown is pretty awesome. It's described as such: 1080p HD 16:9 widescreen, with HD English 5.1 audio. And it really does look and sound great - when cars go through frame, the sound is such that I can actually hear them passing by. There's some color tinting (even the box art is tinted, so this should be no surprise) and some flashback effects, but they don't have that "we're trying too hard to be visually cool" feel. If you happen to have an HDTV as I do, the level of detail you can catch is impressive. Not that I need to see Liam Neeson's facial hair in that much detail, just that I can.
In terms of accessibility, you get a pretty standard package: French and Spanish audio, and English, French and Spanish subtitles.
If you get lost in the middle of this movie, you can always sit back and admire one very well-produced transfer.
The Special Features
This is another nearly bare release from Warner Home Video, not unlike the recent Hall Pass. Whereas that was somewhat forgiveable because it's harder to find extras for a film of that nature, this is more disappointing, because Unknown gives us a lot more to chew on. You get two short featurettes that really don't add much.
Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero: This is only four minutes long, and even that's rife with clips from the movie. In between, people talk about how great it was to work with Neeson on the movie. I'm sure it was, but it would have been more interesting (and substantive) if this actually dug more into how he got this "action hero" label put on him.
What Is Known? Don't expect a lot of answers in this piece. It, too, is only a few minutes long and it's more complimentary fluff than anything else. In fact, it actually repeats some of the stuff from the Neeson piece (?!).
There's so much more that could have been done with this set. Whenever there's a conspiracy/mystery thriller, that's got to be worthy of a featurette at least dishing about it, right? How about filming in those awesome foreign locations? Heck, how about putting together one heck of a visually appealing movie? Or at least coming up with eight minutes of original material? Nope.
Maybe WHV's film guys should sit down with the TV guys - granted, they have less to work with, but WHV's film releases pale in comparison to the special features they've put on recent TV DVDs (Chuck, Supernatural, Human Target).
The Bottom Line
Unknown is a decent popcorn flick if you can overlook the flaws; obviously, if you're a Neeson fan or enjoyed Taken, you'll probably love this one. It's not a movie I'd watch over again, though, and given the lack of special features, I'd say this Blu-Ray is a good rental, but not one that you need to own.