Unknown (2006) September 23, 2008Posted by gproject in : Recently Viewed , trackback
Directed by: Simon Brand
Unknown is a film that came to my attention not through million-dollar marketing or positive word or mouth, but by way of a simple internet trailer that neatly summarised its Saw meets Reservoir Dogs meets Memento storyline, and held back just enough intrigue to make me hunt it down. Unfortunately, rather like this year’s ‘Rashomon for the 24-era’ thriller Vantage Point [review], the film in its final form adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
The story begins as five men wake up in a warehouse to discover that a gas leak during some kind of fight has resulted in them all losing thier memory. The first man to wake takes a phone call from a criminal-type who asks about the status of their hostages - which sets alarm bells ringing. It is clear that some of the group are the kidnappers, and some are captured innocents. But who is who? They attempt to work together to escape the heavily locked down dwelling, but their natural suspicion of each other gradually boils to the surface.
First off, the film boasts a rather impressive cast list for a feature that forms the debut for both writer Matthew Waynee and director Simon Brand. Although none of the main characters are credited by name (preferring instead to stick to some informal descriptions: Jean Jacket, Broken Nose, Handcuffed Man etc.), it didn’t stop the likes of Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear and Joe Pantoliano from taking on the roles. As it stands, the cast is fairly solid, although the slightly derivative dialogue brings them down at times, as does a story that never delves as deeply into its high concept as it should.
Since the real draw here is the mystery behind the identity of each character, I was disappointed to discover that the film was quite careless about how it imparted this knowledge. The most interesting element of it all is the idea that both the kidnapped and their kidnappers are having to work together with no way of knowing who’s who. It’s a concept with such potential, and one that opens up plenty of doors for exploration; so it’s a shame then, that Waynee and Brand barely even scratch the surface of this multi-layered narrative.
The film deals with some of the group conflict that arises because of their situation - mainly through bouts of inane shouting - but the internal conflict this should present (not knowing whether you are, in fact, good or evil), never gets close to enough of a look-in. Add to this a tendency for the story to give away its secrets with an all-too carefree attitude, and you have a story that leaps off the precipice of invention but lands flat on its face. If only a little more time had been put into the method by which each character discovered their part in the game (simply remembering then blurting it out is frankly not good enough), then maybe the film could have built up some tension. As it stands, there’s only enough here to follow one thread to some kind of conclusion.
In fact, even the ending itself is a bit of a mess - an overplayed final scene is supposed to add yet another complex layer, but actually just serves to cement the fact that the film is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is. Unknown starts as an interesting take on the rather well-worn crime drama, but as its story unravels, so does everything else, leaving the film spooling unstoppably onto the floor. It’s not that director Simon Brand has done a bad job either; I can only hope that lessons were learned here. Even with its great cast and concept, I’m pretty sure this film is doomed by its title, to exist only as a self-fulfilling prophesy.