Tuesday, October 3, 2023


February 18, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

There was a time — before the word “spoiler” was used to describe crucial information about a movie — when critics were not reluctant to discuss the coherence of the plots of movies they were reviewing. Of course, that was a time when many movies were based on popular books or radio dramas when people already knew the plots. Wait. Aren’t many movies these days also based on popular books, or even more often, aren’t they remakes of older movies? In any case, it’s likely that a lot of critics are going to be called to task for including spoilers in their reviews of Unknown, starring Liam Neeson. (It, too, is based on a book.) Indeed, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times devotes virtually his entire review to describing the plot and telling us his reaction to the various twists in it as he watched the movie. Finally at the end of his musings, he reins himself in. “Anyway, maybe this is all just me talking. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies,” he says about the plethora of plot twists, before summing up: “Unknown isn’t a really bad movie, just an absurd one.” That’s a far different conclusion from Kenneth Turan’s, who writes in the Los Angeles Times that Unknown “is a nifty international thriller” and then proceeds to describe the plot elements that make it so nifty. At least Turan devotes some of his review to assessing the performances (“What sets Unknown apart is the strength of its cast”) and particularly Liam Neeson’s (“one of the most naturally forceful actors on the contemporary scene”). The major critics are about equally divided over whether the works or doesn’t. Liam Lacey of the Toronto Globe and Mail is a member of Ebert’s camp. After providing a run-down of the plot, he concludes that “the solution, inevitably, feels absurd, second-hand and second-rate.” Likewise Manohla Dargis in the New York Times writes that it’s a movie with “a twist that keeps twisting until it breaks.” Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer makes the same point: “Ultimately – and doesn’t it almost always come to this? — Unknown lets things down as it wraps things up.” But Lou Lumenick of the New York Post is on Turan’s side, writing that the movie is “much smarter than most of the dreck dumped on the unsuspecting public at this time of the year.” As for that ending, Joe Neumaier of the New York Post is forgiving, remarking that “If the final resolution seems a little easy, the movie constantly keeps you puzzled.” And Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle credits director Jaume Collet-Serra for presenting “a film that does all the things that a quality action [movie] must do.”