Friday, February 3, 2012

Film Friday: Unknown (2011)

I like Taken a good deal and Unknown feels similar to Taken in many ways. It has some interesting facets too, some good, some bad. On the good side, Unknown handles the “stolen identity” concept better than any other film that comes to mind, and Liam Neeson is excellent as always. On the downside, the film ultimately feels flat and its politics are to blame.

** spoiler alert **
The Plot
As the film open, Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin to participate in a biotechnology conference. But he mistakenly leaves his briefcase at the airport, and on his way back to the airport to pick it up, his taxi accidentally plunges into a river. He’s saved by his taxi driver (Diane Kruger). When he wakes up in the hospital, he learns another man has taken his place. This man has identification cards in his name, family photos showing him with Neeson’s wife, and everyone accepts him as Dr. Martin Harris. Even Neeson’s own wife Liz (January Jones, who is awful here) seems to treat this man as the real Martin Harris. Is Neeson insane or is something else going on here? And why are people trying to kill him?
The Stolen Identity Issue
Generally, stolen identity thrillers face an uphill battle. While it’s certainly believable one person would impersonate another, it’s just not believable that they could fool the people close to the person being impersonated. Indeed, how could your family and friends not know the difference? What about co-workers? Even if you’ve only dealt with people over the phone, it still seems unlikely that an imposter could fake the voice, the speech patterns, and the level of knowledge needed to pull that off. Also, once you flash your ID to the cops, the imposter’s web starts to unravel.

So when I hear the words “stolen identity,” I cringe because I know I’ll be subjected to unbelievable setups, inexplicable behaviors, and a host of moments where characters need to act stupidly to make the concept work. This is problematic at best because any scheme that relies on everyone on the planet getting movie-stupid is not a great premise for a film.

But that wasn’t the case here. In fact, I was really impressed. I hate to give too much away and there are several twists, so I will proceed cautiously. The issue starts with the question of whether or not Neeson might actually be insane. Indeed for some period of time, you do genuinely wonder if the other guy isn’t the real Dr. Martin Harris and Neeson isn’t just suffering from head trauma. Soon, all the pieces start being explained bit by bit, and in the process a political intrigue is revealed.

Where this film truly deserves recognition is in the execution of that explanation. For one thing, the entire explanation makes sense. Indeed, every last aspect of it is perfectly logical once you understand what happened. Moreover, it is highly unexpected. This is not a solution you’ll see coming, but at the same time, it’s not so far beyond the bounds of common sense or so impractical that you can’t believe it. Further, it’s woven tightly into the political intrigue, meaning it never feels like a gimmick added to the film just to liven it up.

But most importantly, it’s executed perfectly in that the characters never act stupidly to make this work. The authorities don’t inexplicably ignore Neeson’s claims or become blind to obvious clues or throw up their hands in plot-driven helplessness. And all the pitfalls identified above are overcome. For example, it’s Thanksgiving, thus there’s no way to check with the American consulate to look for passport photos. Neeson can’t produce an ID because his wallet was in his briefcase. His wife’s behavior, the presence of his friend (Frank Langella) in Europe, and other similar issues are all reasonably explained. And Neeson isn’t a fool. That makes this a solid, enjoyable story.
Bland Liberalism Masquerading As Depth
All that said, however, there is a problem with this film. Specifically, the film lacks depth, both in the political intrigue and in the characters Neeson meets.

Drama comes from hard decisions, but there are no hard decisions here because the political intrigue is so one-sided. The film takes place in Berlin and it involves a conference where an Arab prince will giving the world for free an environmentalist-fantasy grain which would feed the world’s poor without the usual beefs environmentalists have with farming. Essentially, the greatest guy on earth is about to offer utopia. Yawn. This film would have been much stronger if there was some doubt as to who the good guys and bad guys really are. Yet, as Neeson discovers what’s going on, his choice becomes patently obvious. There’s some irony in what he’s doing, which I won’t go into, but there’s never a single moment where he needs to ask himself if he’s doing the right thing. That robs the film of a ton of drama which would have made the film so much stronger.

Moreover, outside of Neeson, the characters are flat. The bad guys belong to some generic conspiracy that kills people on behalf of rich companies. Yawn. There is never a sense of why they are actually doing this other than bland profit. As we’ve said many times, it’s hard to care about a villain who doesn’t even care about his own schemes.

And the good guys are even more pointless. By and large, they are nothing more than idealized liberal tropes. For example, there is an illegal alien from Africa who tells Neeson where he can find Diane Kruger, an illegal alien from Russia who becomes Neeson’s sidekick. This character adds nothing else to the plot, yet we’re supposed to care about him because the film tells us that Germans mistreat African immigrants and force them to live in slums (a total falsehood). And when he gets killed we’re supposed to care that his poor family in Africa will never know what happened to him or why the money he sends each month suddenly stops. Boo frick’n hoo. This has nothing to do with the story. And the fact the writer hopes to use this to humanize the story is a prime example that the writer had no idea how to connect the characters to the plot or the plot to the audience. This is what happens when you use an indifferent, generic villain.

Similarly, we are introduced to an ex-Stasi officer. He really does nothing to further the plot except explain the nature of the political conspiracy to the audience -- which actually detracts from the film, as it would have been better to have Neeson learn it himself. But again we’re supposed to care about him and again the reason we’re supposed to care is his liberal beliefs. He is presented as a kindly old former military officer who laments that, “We Germans are good at forgetting things. We forgot we were Nazis and then we forgot we were communists.” Oh gee, what a wonderful guy. Only, it’s crap.

For one thing, the Germans have spent the past 60+ years trying to atone for being Nazis. They’ve made themselves pacifists, built museums to war crimes, outlawed denial of Nazi crimes, made it illegal to sell Nazi paraphernalia, and given money all over the world to try to make good. No one in Germany has forgotten they were Nazis. But they did forget they were communists, and this film is a great example of that. It is a total whitewash to present the Stasi as just another military institution. They were in fact one of the more brutal organizations in history, and that gets whitewashed here, especially when this Stasi character describes how peacefully he questioned “suspects” without ever mentioning the torture, the killing and the spying.

But the bigger issue, again, is that he doesn’t fit into the story. He’s a plot convenience. The information he provides could have been found by Neeson in a newspaper. Yet, the writer mistakenly thinks he can humanize the story by giving us another liberal lament through this character. This is poor writing. It’s like the writer spent all his energy solving the stolen-identity puzzle and he didn’t have any energy left to put into the conspiracy and the supporting characters, so he just grabbed some liberal tropes out of the liberal-idiocy bag and jammed them into the story.

This is a good film, but it’s flawed, and that’s rather sad. Indeed, for a film that takes the horrid concept of a stolen identity and handles it exceedingly well -- a rare accomplishment -- the rest of this film doesn’t do it justice.


Tennessee Jed said...

I had planned to see this one, Andrew; and now I doubt I will. This is PRECISELY why I havebecome so turned off by what Hollywood has become. I like Liam Neeson,certainly he seems to have picked up the Harrison Ford mantle as "geezer action hero." I really liked "Taken" and, with some qualms that this one would turn into "Taken 2" I see it is not.

The plot looks like it could have been another examination of identity Theft, ala The Net. But, these bastards can't help themselves anymore. This almost seems to have been developed by Obama's hollywood how YOU can help the cause" council. With the narrative for 2012 being Mitt and the R's are heartless greedy Wall Streeters and war mongers, having the villains be "corporations" fits so nicely.

Since I can only vote with my wallet and time, I am going to pass. Thanks for the review, Andrew. Thanks for feakin' nothing Hollywood.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't want to overstate the politics, so let me stress that this movie doesn't "feel" overtly political. In other words, you won't find yourself blasted by political statement after political statement. Instead, it's all kind of in the background.

For example, they never tell you who the company is that hired the assassins, and if you're not politically astute, then you won't think about it. But if you have paid any attention to leftist whining over the years, then will hear the name "Monsanto" or "ADM" in your head.

Similarly, the stuff with the African immigrant is mainly confined the three or four scene and is easily dismissed because they aren't attacking Americans for once... but it is there. And if you don't know anything about the Stasi, then he just seems like a nice helpful retired man who worked for something like the East German military or FBI and who thinks that Germans are evil people.

In other words, it's not blatantly waved in your face, but it is there if you recognize it.

To me, the bigger flaw is that the film just feel flat because this (above) is where they tried to get depth rather than dealing with the main characters. For example, the relationship between Neeson and his wife is almost non-existent and seems to be the least of Neeson's concerns. Similarly, Kruger spouts these political statements about Africa and then goes into "blank mode" where there's not much more to say about her except that she's along for the ride.

That's the real problem here. If they had dropped the attack to take shots at the Germans and corporations, and instead focused on the story then the story would have been much better. As it is, it's a decent movie which is ultimately forgettable.

Tennessee Jed said...

the fault is probably mine, Andrew. Whether it is age, a souring on leftist politics or, laziness on the part of writers, a bankruptcy of good ideas or something else, there was a time when I could enjoy good but ultimately forgettable films, but I seem to care less about them. I find myself more and more going back to actually study films I liked back in the day and breaking down why they were liked and what made them good. Unless someone I respect has something really good to say about a new film, my tendency has been to pass on it.

DUQ said...

Andrew, It took me a while to even recognize this as a film. When I saw "unknown" on my television screen, I just figured they didn't have the title. LOL!

I did watch it, and like you felt it was really kind of flat. The story moved along well and the identity thing started well and finished well, but it was rather hard to care about anything in the film and I think you put your finger on it because the Arab prince and the bad guys never seemed real. They felt derivative and silly.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Trust me, there's no "fault" to be had. Some films call out for attention, others don't. This one is rather forgettable and there's no crime in skipping it.

The problem here is that this film does one thing well -- the identity issue -- but the rest is really flat. And while I was impressed with how they handled the identity issue and their resolution was clever, that's not enough for me to say that this is a must-see film.

The political issue then makes it worse, particularly if you know anything about Germany, because it's obnoxious, it's false, and it's unneeded. I also think this is a classic example of the problem with liberal writers. Rather than writing a whole story, they end up writing most of story and just filling in with political boogeymen. And that ultimately makes everything feel derivative.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I had that thought the first couple times I saw it on my TV guide as well... "must be a glitch."

I think that is the problem, that everything here is shallow and phony. There is no question that the good buys are 100% good and the bad guys are 100% bad and so Neeson is never once faced with the question: "am I doing the right thing?" It makes the whole thing much less interesting than it would be if he wasn't sure who is good and who is bad.

tryanmax said...

Wow, I haven't seen this yet and you've now presented quite a conundrum. On one hand, I really enjoy Neeson in these sorts of roles, and you've intrigued me that it handles the stolen identity concept well for a change. On the other hand, you're telling me the human element is lacking, which is usually the only reason I can hang in on most stolen identity films. I can lay the politics aside but "ultimately forgettable" are not words that make me rush into anything.

Now, if Neeson would just put on a fedora and run around the desert for awhile, that would be an easy decision.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Yeah, that's the problem.

The politics annoyed me, but they aren't what "ruins" the film. And even "ruin" isn't the right word.

The problem, as I see it, is that the film starts really well and it's got a very clever resolution of the identity issue. But all the rest is very generic. Generic liberal bad guy, check. Gets help from minorities, check. Car chase, check. Fist fight, check. Gun fight, check. Betrayal, check. Solves mystery, check. Big climax fight, check.

If you took out the stolen identity issue and just made this a straight up thriller with Neeson as "the guy they pissed off," then this would be a very dull and derivative film because there's little to care about. So in that regard, this film is really lacking.

BUT, the identity stuff is really quite good. The first 20 minutes in particular I thought were really well done as you aren't sure who is really who (and I'm specifically not saying more for a reason, so don't worry that I've given anything away). And the resolution of the identity issue is quite good and keeps you very interested in the movie from a mystery perspective.

It's the in-between parts which feel at best workman like and at worst tacked on. And I think that's where the politics hurt this film. I think the writer felt that making the bad guy a corporate hit squad would be enough to excite people because the idea upsets him and his liberal buddies. But that's become so cliche and so unbelievable these days that it leaves you without an interesting villain. At the same time, rather than develop the relationship between the characters, we're just supposed to see them as good because they care about these liberal ideas... but there's nothing more to them.

So what you have is a really cool mystery/action film which didn't try very hard on anything outside of the main issue.

Would I recommend it? Let's put it this way. I watched it to the end and never felt like turning it off, but I wouldn't watch it again.

Ed said...

I saw this and I agree with the review. I also want to stress that it's not hitting you over the head with politics, but it's the political assumptions which are the problem. For example, I too heard "Monsanto" in my head because what they say about the grain is the exact opposite of what liberals have been attacking Monsanto over for years.

Why I think this matters is because I can see where these villains would be much more interesting to a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal. "Oh! I knew Monsanto had hit squads! They probably do this all the time!"

But if you don't buy into that and you don't bring your own hatred to the film, then the villain comes across as "generic company doing something evil for vague profit." That's hard to care about.

The same is true with the hit squad who struck me as not very real. For one thing, I think the history given by the Stasi guy is stupid. It's unneeded and it almost makes the villains cartoonish. But even beyond that, I don't have any sense that they are really a team. They seem indifferent to each other, not like people who are engaged in high stakes conspiracies. (I would say more on this, but I don't want to mention any of the characters specifically.)

I'm not saying it's a bad film, but it's nowhere near what it could have been.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That's exactly the problem. If you come into the film caring about evil Monsanto and you believe the whole grain thing is real, then the villain is a good one because of the preconceptions you brought into the film. But if you want the movie to give you a reason to care, it really doesn't do that. It does in a generic sense: "they want to stop someone who is doing good." But that's just not enough to make this interesting.

And in picking a villain who is nothing more than a prop, they handicap the story in many ways. Specifically, they make it hard for Neeson to interact with them in any meaningful way and they make it hard for the viewer to "invest" in the story because there's really nothing to think about. They might as well have said, "the villain is Bad Co. and they want to stop Mr. Good Guy" because that's about as deep as it gets.

Also, before Scott shows up and tell me the villain is a Macguffin, that is true, but it's a mistake in this instance because the relationship between Neeson and the villain does matter.

tryanmax said...

I just wanted to share a thought about why I think Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford are so likeable in these sort of tough guy roles. It is because they are so relatable. They are macho and smart but they aren’t gym freaks or unrealistically erudite in everything. Rather, they are resolute and of sound wits. They allow the (male) viewer to put himself in their shoes and imagine that he could be just as tough in the same situation.

If Hollywood is perplexed as to its declining audiences, maybe it ought to look at its leading men. I can't relate to Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and I don’t want to relate to Shia LeBeouf.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree entirely. There is much to be said about the "common man" hero.

On the one hand, I think there is a place for the Schwarzenegger type hero. They are essentially a fantasy hero and they can be pretty cool. But relating to them is very hard, especially as they tend to be in larger-than-life action roles rather than thriller roles, i.e. unrealistic portrayals.

But if you want a hero that people can really relate to, then you need a "common man" hero. And the best kind of "common man" is the American ideal, and that's what both Ford and Neeson are.

When not in action, they are quiet, private men who go about their jobs professionally and live their lives humbly but with extreme competence, i.e. they are nice guys with a strong independent streak.

And when pushed into action -- they never pick a fight -- they rise to the occasion. They use all the skills they've learned over the years, all of their brains and strength and cleverness, and most importantly "their common sense." In other words, they act like we hope we would act. They aren't brutal, they aren't flippant, they don't spout one-liners, they don't play games. They just very seriously go about getting the job done so they can go back to their lives.

I think that's how most American males like to see themselves. At the same time, I think that's also something that attracts women -- because they are basically nice guys with a hidden "ultra-macho" side.

By comparison, Arnold or Dwayne are guys who are "showy" macho
all the time and offer little more than muscles. And a guy like Lebeouf is a wimp. He's whiny and then gets nasty when he gets upset. Neither is appealing.

In effect, Neeson and Ford would be great friends who you could count on if something happened, but Arnold and Dwayne are the kind of people you only call if you have a problem, and Lebeouf is a guy you want nothing to do with.

DUQ said...

tryanmax, That's a really good point. A lot of people are talking about why they like Neeson and I think you're right that he's someone you can relate to.

Andrew wrote an article a while ago about Predators and he made the point that Adrien Brody may not look like Stallone, but he fit the role perfectly as a totally believable special forces guy. I think that's very true and it's the same thing here. I believe Neesom in these roles, I would not believe Dwayne or whiny Shia.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Ask an ye shall receive. Here's the link: LINK

By the way, the relatable action hero is nothing new. In fact, that's what action heroes used to be until they became larger than life in the 1980s. Basically, what would have been superheros in the 1950s/1960s because action heroes in the 1980s/1990s and the action hero vanished for a while. (Then these muscle guys gave way to the martial artists, who seem to be running their course now.)

Indeed, look at the heroes of the past and you see guys like John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Bogart, etc. These are normal guys, not muscle bound monsters or guys with highly specialized fight-school training.

Hopefully, there is a switch back to the more classic "average man" action hero.

tryanmax said...

Adrien Brody is much more the "unlikely hero" type than a Shia LeBeouf type. Even though Brody is kind of a slight figure who cleans up well, you can believe that his hands will ball up into fists when the time is right. LeBouf, on the other hand, just seems like his whole body would curl into a ball.

AndrewPrice said...

I agree. There's an inner toughness to Brody which Lebeouf doesn't have.

Also, what's interesting about Brody is that having read a lot about special forces and knowing a lot of military people, he's very typical of what you find. They aren't muscle men like Arnold. They instead have a quiet intensity. I think Brody does a great job of displaying that.

Lebeouf on the other hand is whiny and showy, like an Arnold who lacks the muscles to back up his actions and turns coward once the other guy doesn't run.

Doc Whoa said...

I enjoyed the film enough, but it didn't make much of an impression on me. I watched it mainly because I like Neeson and I agree with everything that's been said above about him. Outside of his performance, there isn't much that's all that memorable in the film. I like Frank Langella, but he wasn't in it much. I'm indifferent to Kruger, who is indifferent right back. January Jones was horrible in this. At first, I thought she was intentionally playing the role in such a bland and indifferent way to make some sort of point to the audience like she was sending signals to Neeson or something, but no, she just stinks as an actress. She basically has the acting prowess of Megan Fox.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I don't know whether to blame the actress or the writing because they gave her nothing to work with. She is largely just a prop. That's really the problem.

In many ways, it's like someone sat down and wrote a great role for Lian Neeson but never bothered to flesh out any of the other characters beyond what was needed to keep Neeson moving through the story.

Even with Kruger, they can't seem to make up their mind why she helps him. First she doesn't want to help him for no apparent reason. Then she does. And from that moment, she's part of Team Neeson even though a normal person would probably disappear once they started being shot at. It's like they never asked questions like, "what is her motivation here?"

Anonymous said...

Also, before Scott shows up and tell me the villain is a Macguffin

I wasn't going to say that, but since you mentioned it... (Just kidding!)

As far as realism, am I the only one who has a hard time accepting a taxi driver that looks like Diane Kruger? But maybe all Berlin taxi drivers are hot blondes. :-)

In my experience, very often the political stuff is simply a matter of degrees - change a line here, change a character's ethnicity there and what was once offensive is offensive no longer. And like many of these films, it's highly likely the screenwriter didn't give it a second's thought - he just wrote what he knew without seeking out alternate viewpoints.

I'm actually not a huge fan of identity theft movies - I find them... frustrating for some reason. I haven't seen The Net in years but I recall it was effective, and that movie was released just as the Internet was becoming the force of nature that it is today. They did a smart thing by making Bullock's mom in the film have Alzheimer's so she'd have trouble recognizing her own daughter (at least I think that's what happens).

As far as fantasy natural resources, I thought the forgettable but still oddly watchable Chain Reaction did an interesting thing with hydrogen power. The good guys develop it, the bad guys want to get rid of it, Morgan Freeman plays the middleman (with nuance!) who explains why an unlimited energy source would be a bad idea, and the Feds are the good guys.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Monsanto but a cursory glance at their Wikipedia page reveals some controversy.

Kelly said...

I haven't seen this, but I will see it. I'm curious to see how they handle this stolen identity issue. Also, I too like Neeson and I try to see his films.

AndrewPrice said...

Kelly, It's handled very well this time, with a decent surprise packed in it. Let me know what you think after you see it.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I agree entirely. Including the fact that many East Germans were so stultified by oppressive socialist rule that they don't understand why they're not succeeding in the reunited Germany. But they're still good at condemning the Nazis. And many yearn for the "good old days" of gray uniformity with no such concepts as "success" or "failure."

Too bad too. I like Liam Neeson, and have enjoyed most of his movies (except the pervert clean-up act in Kinsey).

tryanmax said...

Scott, when you said "fantasy natural resources" that triggered something in my brain. It put me in mind of the Mamet play The Water Engine which brilliantly uses such a MacGuffin to drive the plot. That is, the inventor wants to patent it, but industrial interests want to suppress it. I know that a made-for-cable movie was done (TNT I think) but I've never seen it.

Of course, such a plot device can be used exceptionally well--in Mamet's case, one actually comes to think of the engine as a character itself--or it can be used disastrously--substituting a singular concept for an actual plot.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I had the same problem actually. Nothing about her looks like any taxi driver I've ever seen, nor does she ever really act convincingly as one. She looks more like a model on a photoshoot than she does a taxi driver.

In this case, I disagree with you about the politics. The writer clearly intended to make a couple political statements. The Monsanto/ADM/Big Business thing may have just come out of the generic liberal boogeyman bag, but he went way out of his way to insert the Stasi guy and the African immigrant. He even has a German character hypocritically ridicule the African, which the African has to translate to Neeson because the German only speaks German whereas the African guy speaks perfect English, German and presumably some African language. And then Kruger gives a stupid speech about how this poor African guy's family will suffer. This is a blatant political statement, it's not something I am reading into the story.

And what makes it a bigger problem is that the guy seems to rely on these political ideas to generate depth. That's the huge mistake here.

I think the problem with identity theft films is that they are inherently unbelievable for the reasons I state. To make them work, the characters must act stupidly. The guy whose identity is stolen needs to so overreact and become seemingly insane to make the cops decide to chase him rather than clear it up... the friends and family need to do stupid things like suddenly decide to go shopping in the middle of the crisis so they can't be found... the imposter needs near-omniscience to know where the real guy is at all times and what he will say or do next... and the cops need to become keystone cops. That fills these films with uncomfortable stupidity, which is like the writer telling you "look, I know this doesn't work, but just believe it so we can continue the film" -- it makes you feel dirty.

There are many problems with this grain. For one thing, it's trying to fix a problem that the audience doesn't really buy into. The world is not starving. That's 1970s dystopian liberalism. So the stakes here are kind of silly to anyone except a doctrinaire liberal. For another, it's hard to believe that something like this grain, once invented, could be eradicated just by one hit squad. Indeed, to make this work, they do one of these "he has never shared his work with anyone and he keeps all his research on a single laptop." Really? Also, the assumption is that this would put Monsanto/ADM/etc. out of business, but this is only one type of grain. Why would it kill their business? etc.

On Monsanto, yeah, they have a reputation for being evil. Liberals have been after them for at least 20 years now. Their biggest claim is that Monsanto is creating evil grains which make farmers dependent by not producing new seeds which the farmer can reuse. They've also been attacked for GM foods and pesticides.

Teresa said...

This was an excellent movie. I really enjoyed watching this action packed movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I skipped Kinsey precisely because it sounded like a complete whitewash.

Beyond that though, I'm a big fan of Neeson. And this film isn't horrible, and Neeson does a really good job in it. It's just flat as a movie because I don't think the writer put any effort into anything other than the identity theft part of the story.

P.S. You're right about the Germans. They were thoroughly de-Nazified, but they've never been de-communisted. And that's makes this political statement even nastier in my opinion. They are basically attacking the Germans for being Nazis/communists again, but then he waxes nostalgic about the good old fays of the Stasi and he completely glosses over the bad things they did.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I haven't seen that. Liberals have been arguing for years that companies suppress technology which would hurt their business. They particularly argue that companies but patents to bury them and thus, the patent system needs to be eliminated. But the truth is actually the opposite. Part of getting a patent is to make the knowledge available to the public. At that point, it can't be suppressed anymore.

Also, let me point out, the instances where I've seen technology gets suppressed have all been by liberal institutions like Hollywood or Microsoft. Companies like oil companies don't want to stop alternative energy, they're investing in it because they know their reserves are in shrinking and they will need a new business one day. But companies like Microsoft want to stop the next big thing that might replace Windows.

AndrewPrice said...

Teresa, I think parts of it were excellent. Any scene involving Liam Neeson was good. He's a fantastic actor and one of the best action starts of the present generation. And I think the whole mystery about who he is and how this other guy could replace him was really top notch.

That said, I'm not thrilled with the entire film and I think they missed a lot of opportunities to really make this a much stronger film. But I did enjoy it because of the strength of Neeson and the stolen identity issue.

T-Rav said...

Interesting. I can't say too much about the plot or the people involved, except that I don't think January Jones has ever been good in anything. Isn't she in Mad Men? Anyone know if she's any good in that? (I'm guessing not.) Also, I think Diane Kruger is a bigger deal in Europe than she is here, but the only thing I can remember her having a big role in is National Treasure, where she was so-so. I like Liam Neeson most of the time, but then he keeps doing stuff to ruin my opinion of him, like Kinsey.

As far as Germany goes, from my visit there, I can say that they have put a lot of effort into their Holocaust memorials at Nuremberg, Dachau, etc. It's kind of impossible if you're a German not be aware of it. I think they must have collectively decided at some point that if there's going to be another genocidal war in the future, it's not going to be their fault.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Being related to Germans and having been over there several times, I can tell you that there isn't a German who doesn't have the whole Nazi thing drilled into their heads from birth. To say that they have "forgotten" is about as stupid as saying "nobody mentions slavery in America anymore." It's just not true.

It is true, however, that East Germans have never really repented of their communist past. But that's not even the point made by the Stasi guy. He is condemning modern Germans for being capitalists and not having enough guilt over their past... and then he whitewashes the Stasi as basically just an FBI in uniforms.

I can't say that I have seen Kruger in much beyond National Treasure. I'm sure she's been in something, but I don't recall any of it.

On January Jones, I haven't seen Mad Men... I know, I know... but she was horrid here.

I like Neeson a lot, but he has done some stupid films. Of course, he's done some great ones too: Rob Roy, Taken, Schindler's List, etc. I even thought he was the best thing in Phantom Menace, though that's faint praise.

Tennessee Jed said...

January Jones plays (ed?) Don Draper's ex-wife in Madmen . The show is incredible. Joners plays a bitchy, whiny, 60's wife. It is her greatest hit. Remember the term 1 hit wonders as it relates to pop artists. That applies here.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Thanks. I haven't seen the show so I wasn't sure, but she's really wooden and unpleasant in this film. Her performance was actually bad enough that I noticed how bad it was. Fortunately, she's barely in the film.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I've read before that the thing about what used to be East Germany is, the Soviets assured them they really weren't responsible for the Holocaust. It was all the fault of those Nazi capitalist pigs. Hence, the easterners never felt guilt over what had happened the same way those in the West did.

Now to be fair, I read this in a fictional conversation in Max Brooks' "World War Z." So....yeah. But it would explain why the neo-Nazi skinhead stuff has been more prevalent in cities like Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig (all part of the old Soviet bloc). Also, Austria has had a much worse problem with far-right politicians and racial stuff post-1945 than Germany--and Austria, too, has convinced itself it's really a victim. So I think there's a lot to the theory.

Kruger had small parts in Troy and Inglourious Basterds. I can't think of anything else.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think that's a very accurate statement.

My mother grew up in the East German system before they escaped. And basically what the Russians did was change the Nazi uniforms for the communist uniforms, change the letterhead on the Gestapo, etc., hang a few important Nazis, declare the Nazis an arm of evil capitalism, and then party on like it was 1939.

Little else changed. And no attempt was made to tell people what the Nazis really did or to atone for it because (1) they needed the East Germans to remain militaristic to fight against the West and (2) atoning for it would have hit too close to home as the Soviets were guilty of the exact same crimes.

So when the wall came down, a lot of East Germans heard for the first time that history was not what they had been told. The US was not the bad guy who had been trying to take over Europe. The Nazis were unbelievably evil. The Russians were just as evil. Etc.

Even though they heard it, they never felt any guilt for it like the West because they saw themselves as victims of the Russians, just like the Austrians see themselves as victims of the Nazis.

But since that time, the West Germans worked hard to insert this into the training of all Germans and there isn't anyone in the country right now who doesn't know about it and doesn't let it influence their thinking.

Anonymous said...

I've heard more than one person refer to Mad Men as a fluke in January Jones' career since she hasn't been very good in most of her other roles, including her guest host gig on SNL which was one of the worst episodes in recent memory.

As for Monsanto, are they evil or is it simply their reputation? (I don't expect a serious answer; I am asking with tongue firmly planted in cheek.) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I will give you a serious answer nevertheless... a little bit of both. If there was ever an example of a company who did things that would hurt the world at large in the name of profit, it's them.

On Jones, it wouldn't surprise me. She was truly, noticeably bad here and she didn't even get to speech much.

CrisD said...

Jed-if you ever read this-"Geezer Action Hero" !!!! High-larious. You made my day (haha Clint Eastwood?)!!! LOL

ScyFyterry said...

I haven't seen this, but I am curious to see it because of Neeson. It's interesting that everyone seem to agree he's a great actor. I think he deserves recognition.

T-Rav said...

Scott, I haven't watched SNL in forever, but I distinctly remember hearing that Jones' performance as host was bottom-of-the-barrel bad.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

You heard correctly!

As for me, I still watch SNL regularly. The cast is game but the writing is subpar. If I laugh more than once during an episode, I consider it a "success."

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott and Andrew - Mad Men is actually the only thing I have seen her in. That actually helps her for a viewer like myself since there is no other reference for either her or her character. In short, the character simply "became" the way she acted it. She does behave woodenly, almost like a marionette. However, that actually works in the role since she is essentially playing a Philadelphia main line "semi" debutante trophy wife. "Mad Men" was done by the team that did the Soprano's. While it goes overboard on skeweing the male chauvenist pig culture of office work place of the '60's, the characters, writing, and plots are simply outstanding.

Cris - glad you like my reference. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, Neeson really stands out in modern Hollywood as one of the few "old school" type actors today and I think that helps his appeal.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav and Scott, I don't watch SNL anymore. I used to watch it all the time, but slowly over time, it's lost me. It just hasn't been funny in years. In fact, it's gotten to the point that I don't even like their style, much less their humorless humor.

I had heard she was awful, but then you hear that a lot about the hosts so I don't put much credence into it.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I find that to be true a lot where not knowing an actor/actress is better than knowing them because you don't get the baggage.

Interestingly, I did not know Harrison Ford before Star Wars, so for me, he was simply was Han Solo.

P.S. As with Cris, I love the phrase "geezer action hero." It actually conjures up some cool movie ideas.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I think the only way you’re going to see The Water Engine is on stage, seeing as the only copies of the film available on Amazon are used VHS.

The good thing about the play is that it doesn’t really follow any of the liberal tropes that you point out. The plot is rather thin when you really consider it: the protagonist wants to patent and profit from his invention and the antagonists want to destroy the invention and him. But Mamet executes this simple plot very intriguingly with sharp dialogue, rapidly shifting scenes, characters that are never fully revealed in a way that keeps one guessing, and a completely open ending that the only way to conclude upon is the fact that none of us presently has a water engine of our own.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's too bad because it sounds intriguing.

Mamet really is a genius. Sometimes he's a little indulgent, but when he's on, he's really on and he's turned out some just truly gripping work.

ScyFyterry said...

Andrew, Another guy I like a lot is Aaron Eckhart. He strikes me as another guy in this mold. As you put it, he has a quiet intensity.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, He's another good one. I think he has a bright future as long as he doesn't go stupid political on us.

Kelly said...

I watched this last night and had the same reaction you did. I like the start and I like Neeson throughout and I thought it was interesting finding out the mystery, but the rest felt like filler.

AndrewPrice said...

Kelly, Thanks for telling us what you thought!

Under Pants Gnomes Hired in ADM Corporate Espionage Divsion said...


This film makes perfect sense

Step One: Kill Scientists

Step Two: ?????

Step Three: Profit

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! I swear I mentioned the Underpants Gnomes in my first draft, but took it out because it just didn't fit the tone!

That is exactly what this kind of conspiracy theory is about when it appears in film:

Step 1. Do something evil.
Step 2. ????
Step 3. Profit

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Great review, Andrew!

"Generic liberal bad guy, check."

Also, throw in totally unbelievable liberal good guy, an Arab prince trhat solves world hunger (hysterical laughing)...yeah, right. That can so happen.

IOW's, stuff liberals would like to see but never will.

A pro basketball team made up of little people has a greater chance of winning the NBA title or an NFL tean consisting of gorgeous women winning the Superbowl than that happening.

And for the record I like little people and gorgeous women (but not shallow gorgeous women or evil little people), so no offense. :^)

PS- And I love my gorgeous wife more than gorgeous women football players.

There, I think I'm covered now.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Forgot to say I saw this and you're right on with the review.

BTW, speaking of wishful thinking, that corporate hitmen thing is more of it.

I mean, you would think this is a common thing being how leftists use it so much (evil, never questions orders military being another).

Now, I don't have a college degree and I'm not a genius (okay, actually I am but no one knows it) but when has that ever happened?

I'm not talking about isolated individuals who do bad things (which are in every gruop of humans, especially hollywood) but the way liberals portray them.

It happens about as often as Arab Princes solving world hunger with science.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, LOL! Yeah, I think you're covered.

I think you're right about the good guy -- very unbelievable. This is a liberal fantasy, the (insert name of current bad guys, e.g. Arabs) who are so good that they want to save the world for free. It's never happened and never will. But liberals love the idea because in their minds, this false-reality puts the lie to the capitalist model.

On the hit squad, you're right, it's never happened. They are relying on extrapolation. "Government's have hitmen and companies are like governments, so they must have the same."

I think a lot of this also comes out the idea that some ex-soldiers join security companies and we KNOW that they must all be hired killers, right? What else would they be doing... like providing embassy security?

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