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  • TBC
  • Crime, Drama
  • 2006
  • 85 mins




In ad-man Simon Brand's twisty thriller, five amnesiac men have until sundown to work out who they are, and who they want to be


A man dressed in a jean jacket (Caviezel) awakens groggily to find himself on a warehouse floor. Nearby lies another man with a broken nose (Kinnear), a third bound to a chair (Pantoliano), a fourth hanging from the upper level by his handcuffed wrist (Sisto) and slowly bleeding to death from a bullet wound, and a fifth in the vicinity wearing a rancher shirt (Pepper).

As a result of inhaling the noxious contents of a leaking gas canister, the five men have lost all recollection of who they are and how they came to be there - but it is clear that they were involved in a vicious struggle before they succumbed to the effect of the fumes. Discovering that two of them had been abducted and held by the other three as part of a kidnapping plot, but no longer sure who were the criminals and who the victims, they must each decide what to do and who to trust as they try to find a way out of the locked-down building before the other kidnappers return.

Towards the end of Unknown, a flashback shows one of the characters asking another what will happen to their plan "if something goes wrong". He is assured that it will not - but of course by this late point we know that it will, and that result will be a chaotic mess.

The same might be said for Simon Brand's feature debut - a film that opens with such a solid-gold premise (Reservoir Dogs meets Memento) that nothing, surely, could go wrong. And yet as it stumbles aimlessly into its ponderous middle act, the plot (scripted by first-timer Matthew Waynee) begins to strain under its own lack of momentum. True, there is a satisfying double-whammy of a twist in store for the end, but getting there takes far too long, even if, at a mere 85 minutes, the film is hardly an epic.

Unknown has two serious problems. The first is that blank slates - even ones who have occasional flashbacks to a life of loving fatherhood - offer little scope for empathy. It is precisely the five main characters' temporary loss of identity that makes it difficult for viewers to identify with any of them in the first place, or to care much about their predicament.

All the squabbling, emoting and posturing that constitutes the drama of the film's central scenes has little to do with who the characters 'really' are, for not even they can answer that question. Their dialogue goes round in circles, with petty arguments and lengthy monologues making the minutes drag in what ought to be a taut thriller.

Even worse, the sense of claustrophobia that Brand so carefully builds in the warehouse is entirely undone by frequent cuts to scenes taking place in the outside world. Eliza Coles (Moynahan), wife of one of the abductees, makes the money-drop. Chief kidnapper 'Snakeskin' (Stormare) heads to the warehouse with the cash. The police follow his trail, but all this serves not to raise but to reduce the tensions unfolding in the warehouse itself.

Still, the desert storehouse makes for an atmospheric location, and in the five principals there is, over and above their fine ensemble performances, some very clever casting to confound our idea of who their characters might be.

Calviezel and Sisto have both previously played the Redeemer (in The Passion Of The Christ and the mini-series 'Jesus' respectively) - and Sisto gets to spend most of his scenes in this film hung up and dying again - but will they turn out to be so righteous here?

Pantoliano has a long history of playing traitors, psychos and rats, but here all his typical sleazebag gestures seem to have been appropriated by the more usually clean-cut Kinnear. And of course, Pantoliano has played a detective in that greatest of amnesia flicks Memento, while Sisto also stars as a private abduction investigator in television's 'Kidnapped'. Only Stormare's back catalogue, having played sadistic kidnappers in Fargo and 8MM, and the Devil himself in Constantine, can be taken from the start as a reliable guide to his current character - everyone else is an empty vessel, haunted but not necessarily inhabited by their own cinematic history.

Really the opening premise to Unknown is just about gripping enough to carry the whole film, and there are some truly unexpected pay-offs in the closing scenes. It is a pity, though, that Brand fails to maintain a consistent level of tension throughout. Perhaps he just forgot.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Jeremy Sisto, Peter Stormare, Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Joe Pantoliano, Kevin Chapman, James Caviezel, Bridget Moynahan, Clayne Crawford, Chris Mulkey
  • Director: Simon Brand
  • Screen Writer: Matthew Waynee
  • Producer: Rick Lashbrook, John S Schwartz, Darby Parker
  • Photographer: Steve Yedlin
  • Composer: Angelo Milli

In a nutshell

The plot is certainly ingenious, but stronger characterisation and better pacing might have made Unknown a little more memorable.

by Anton Bitel

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