The amnesia / flashback idea has produced some pretty decent movies in its time. Often presenting the denouement at the beginning, or at least starting halfway through, the plot can unfold backwards as well as forwards, the audience bonding with characters who know as little as they do.
In addition, storyilines dont actually need to be that original, as revelations can be doled out piecemeal, or in intriguing orders. The masterfully executed Memento could be the archetype but others from Reservoir Dogs to The Constant Gardner have traded off this handy obfuscatory plot device. Unknown does the same.
Five men wake up locked in an abandoned warehouse, unable to remember anything. It quickly becomes clear that they are involved in a kidnapping plot, and the other members of the gang will return before sunset. But as no-one can remember who are the kidnappers and who are the hostages, who can be trusted? And will anyone get out alive?
This rather excellent premise will probably draw many to the film. For such a short piece it also features an array of stars (James Cavaziel, Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear and Joe Pantoliano leading most of the scenes), largely because there’s nothing to do but character act. It’s also pretty entertaining for a while, as director Simon Brand, ratchets up the tension slowly.
But Unknown doesn’t quite live up to expectations. The script isn’t strong enough to sustain a film set around one location and based on one trick. A talented cast isn’t given quite enough to do – all suffering from the handicap that, if everyone has lost their memory, everyone is essentially the same character.
By the end the plot snaps about, and twists are thrown in almost for the sake of it. Even at a relatively modest 98 minutes, I was left with the feeling that all its ideas had been exhausted.
Unknown isn’t a terrible film – but there are a lot of great movies of this type already, and it just doesnt quite manage to join them.