Liam Fugue


18 February 2011| No Comments on Unknown     by Sean Chavel


Riveting 45 minute start until it crumbles from unjustified jam-packed action. Unknown looks like another clobbering Liam Neeson score when judging the ads (“Taken” was badass, wasn’t it?), but when you actually get involved in the story you might find yourself wanting less slam-banging and smacking. When clichéd hitmen are introduced into the mix, the kind who never suffer broken bones, who excel at surprise confrontations but can’t finish off their target, and who always know exactly who and where everybody is despite all else, you know the movie has gone downhill. Neeson, as the American born Dr. Martin Harris, undergoes a fugue state following a car accident and four day coma while on business convention in Berlin, Germany. Fractured memory, and now his beautiful wife (January Jones) denies that she knows him at all.

To provide you with knowledge, a fugue state is an “altered state of consciousness in which a person may move about purposely and even speak but is not fully aware; the person experiences a dissociative break in identity that can involve unplanned travel and wandering… sometimes [linked] to such psychiatric conditions such as delirium, dementia, bipolar disorder or depression” (MedicineNet.com). In other words, Neeson cannot differentiate between what memories are real and what are not, and thus becomes the crux of his identity crisis. This is not a condition or term raised within the film, which has him tracking and harassing another Martin Harris and his supposed wife Elizabeth. But the film is most interesting when it initially suggests this informally. Why does every cinematic mystery these days have to be eventually encumbered by jam-packed action that is so damn… typical? Typical, cliched, conventional and dull. When a film gets louder it doesn’t mean it can’t get dull at the same time.

Neeson commissions taxi driver Gina (Diane Kruger, oxymoron of beautiful Euro-trash), who pulled him to safety following the accident, to help him now as he faces a conspiratorial plot. And what an overcooked conspiratorial plot it is. Bruno Ganz plays an ex-secret police agent who is now a private detective. Aidan Quinn plays an established scientist who is singularly advanced in his field. Frank Langella plays another one of his shadowy sinister characters. Then there are the anonymous hitmen who rub out anonymous extras who are of the slightest inconvenience to them (talk about trying to keep a low profile). When one of their targets is pinned down, they attempt to plant drug overdose paraphernalia instead of just whacking their victim readily (as originally planned). In a later sequence, rather than deactivating a planted bomb the easy way (computer deactivation code), they opt for  the hard way with predictable consequences.

Such a good beginning with compact storytelling, then extraneous and overblown action sullies everything. I became resentful. Neeson, as always, plays a brawny and husky hero who can’t be pushed around so easily. The cinematography is first-rate, polished and sharp. The location work is enticing and benefits from a seeming lack of restrictions (Liam and the crew trek Berlin anyway they want, it seems). Good work falls apart due to unnecessary commercialized elements.

If you want to see what this movie should have been, there is a very interesting French film – no action just tantalizing drama – called “La Moustache” (2005) about a professional white collar family man who receives unwelcomed claims by wife and doctors that he is a fugue state case.

109 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Gotcha!” (1985); “The Machinist” (2004); “La Moustache” (2005, France); “Taken” (2008).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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