Unknown (2006)

by Tom Ingram

Genre Mystery; Thriller
People Jim Caviezel; Greg Kinnear; Bridget Moynahan; Joe Pantoliano; Barry Pepper; Peter Stormare
/10 4

Five men wake up in a warehouse with no memory of how they got there. Some are tied up and some aren’t—some of them are kidnappers, and some are hostages. Complications ensue as they try to find out who is which and escape the carefully-barricaded building.

Unknown is not even timely in following up on a lot of late 90s obsessions: it was released in 2006. The inclusion of Joe Pantoliano, of The Matrix and Memento, is fitting, though this movie has less going for it than either of those. As the men try to decide whether to band together or maintain their former allegiances, which were surely important to them but which they cannot now remember, the question is raised: just what is the role of memory in consciousness and identity? What does “I” refer to? What is a person?

The movie then proceeds to answer these questions in the most simplistic way possible, by mooting all the difficult bits with a straight-up shootout. The screenwriters apparently want to look ambitious without doing any of the work ambition entails. See also the dialogue, which is full of the worst kind of swearing, and the plot, which has one final, gratuitous twist with unfortunate implications. The acting is of variable quality, and even the actors—Kinnear, Pantoliano—who do a pretty good job have trouble keeping character when they’re delivering such terrible lines.

The B-plot of the police attempting to find the hostages doesn’t link up with the main plot until the end, by which point it hardly seems to matter. The police and the hostages both take every opportunity to be rude to each other to provide a superficial sense of conflict. After all the villains are dead, the hero tosses a lighter into a gasoline-filled pit solely so they can show him calmly walking away from an explosion. Finding themselves ill-equipped to deal with their premise, the screenwriters used these and other bad action movie tricks to stretch out the running time, and even after that it’s still an anaemic 84 minutes (though it feels much longer). Unknown is an intriguing idea, but the execution is inept and it makes for a not-so-intriguing movie.

1h24m; 2006; Colour