This Month's Review: 'Unknown.' Greetings, fellow SUBbers, and welcome to this inaugural edition of BTSB at the Movies! Each month now I will head to my local cinema (time and finances permitting) and provide you with a detailed report of my findings! Furthermore, at no extra cost to you, I shall throw in a review of a DVD that will have some connection to the movie selected that month – perhaps it will star one of the same actors, or share the same director or writer? Maybe the connection will be less obvious? You'll just have to wait and see...
For this debut installment of BTSB at the Movies I went to see the thriller Unknown, currently showing at Kinopalatsi. (Er, I hope. It was at the time of writing at least.) Unknown tells the story of Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones), who arrive in Berlin for a biotechnology summit. After arriving at their hotel, Martin realises that he has left his briefcase at the airport, and immediately returns to retrieve it. However he never arrives at his destination – a freak car accident leaving him in a coma. Upon regaining consciousness, Martin discovers to his horror that his identity, in fact his entire life has been stolen, and furthermore, he appears to have been replaced. No-one recognises him any longer, not even his own wife. Pursued by would-be assassins, and with the help of kindly taxi-driver Gina (Diane Kruger), Martin embarks upon a mission to re-discover his identity and unravel the mystery that has surrounded him.
Made for the relatively low budget of U.S $30 million, Unknown proved to be a surprise hit, debuting at number 1 at the U.S box office before going on to take in $63 million, and over $130 million worldwide. For Liam Neeson (Schindler's List, The A-Team) the role here of Dr. Martin Harris is hardly a challenge, whilst January Jones (Mad Men, X-Men: First Class) as his wife Elizabeth, proves once again that Ashton Kutcher was right when he told her that she really can't act. Diane Kruger (National Treasure, Inglourious Basterds) is feisty, but convincing an audience that she could ever be a Bosnian-illegal-immigrant-taxi-driver was always going to be a tough sell. Without doubt the best performance comes from Bruno Ganz, probably best known for playing Hitler in Downfall, which has since become a popular target for parody on YouTube. Ganz portrays former Stasi agent Ernst Jürgen, and manages to successfully steal every scene he is in, including one particularly fantastic sequence with Frank Langella towards the end of the film.
Unknown is an enjoyable if fairly routine thriller, relying on those old staples of coma and amnesia as the foundation for its plot. Exploring the loss of identity and the inherent risks involved in rediscovering one's former self have acted as the basis of many prior films – in fact in some ways Unknown is quite reminiscent of Total Recall. In spite of its flaws, Unknown is for the most part a pretty entertaining film, particularly whilst its mystery is still unfolding. However once Martin discovers the truth about his past the film takes a decided turn for the worse, and the ending is a shade too 'Hollywood' for my liking. Overall I'd suggest you wait until this one comes out on DVD – it's worth checking out, but perhaps not quite worth the price of a ticket in this economy.
BTSB's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
DVD Pick: 'The Next Three Days.'
I hadn't even heard of The Next Three Days before it was recommended to me about a month ago by my friend Emilia, who claimed that she had spent most of its two hour running time watching it from the edge of her seat. A week later I found myself doing the exact same thing – it turns out that this is a pretty great film, and after a little research on my part I realised that I had no reason to be surprised. Writer/Director Paul Haggis (Writer/Director 'Crash', Writer 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Casino Royale') based his screenplay on the 2008 French film Pour Elle (Anything for Her), which some of you may have seen recently on SUB TV. After initially setting the scene and introducing us to the main characters, Haggis does a terrific job of creating suspense and then building and maintaining that tension throughout until the movie reaches its climax.
Starring Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) as John Brennan, The Next Three Days begins with John sitting down to breakfast with his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and their young son Luke. Soon after, John answers a knock at the door, only to have a swarm of cops burst in and arrest Lara for murder. Fast forward three years, and after having been unable to prove Lara's innocence and with all of their appeals exhausted, Lara attempts suicide. This leads John to the conclusion that he must find a way to break her out of prison in order to save his family, and her life.
I admit to being a big Russell Crowe fan, but although the potential for bias in his favour here is great, I would still have no problem arguing that he is really terrific in this movie. He plays Brennan perfectly as the average guy, a community college teacher, faced with an enormous challenge and seemingly well out of his depth. In stark contrast to his various tough-guy roles of the past, Crowe gives Brennan a wonderful vulnerability, portraying real anguish at the difficult decisions he is faced with, and downright terror as he grapples with the numerous obstacles and mis-steps he experiences along the way. Elizabeth Banks holds up well throughout alongside Crowe, whilst Liam Neeson and Brian Dennehy in particular give great cameo performances.
Not only is The Next Three Days all about discovering whether or not John is able to pull off his unlikely mission, it's also a matter of whether he will still be able to live with himself if he does – whether the sacrifices he must make in order to succeed will prove too great, and whether in the process of trying to save his family he will instead destroy it. My final verdict? The Next Three Days is definitely worth seeing. Great performances, a compelling script, and suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat. (in my case, literally.)
BTSB's Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆