One thing that is intrinsic sense of identity is temporal continuity. You can remember the progression of time as one day follows the next. The very thought of a disruption in memory is frightening to most on a very visceral level. Amnesia is bad enough for one person to cope with but imagine the impact of a group of people awakening in strange circumstances all with no recollection of how or why they where there. There have been several film treatments of this fundamental concept. Some examples would include the cult sci-fi classic ‘Cube’ (the original at least), or the reverse chronological ‘Memento’. Now we have another variation on the theme with ‘Unknown’. What all of these films have in common is the exploration of the horror that ensues when a group of people are forced together and none of them have any recollection of who they are or what they are doing in a strange, foreboding place.
A man known only as "Jean Jacket"(Jim Caviezel) is the first to awaken. He finds himself in some sort of chemical warehouse surrounded by four other men. Making his way to a bathroom mirror he looks at his reflection and screams out ‘who am I?" In the main room we see that several of the men have been badly beaten. One is shot, one is in handcuffs and another is tied to a chair. It appears that some chemical was released in the air resulting in the memory loss for everyone in the room. Obviously some there are good guys and bad guys but the question remains which men are which. Consistent which their loss of identity the men are referred to only by vague descriptors. Besides Jean Jacket there is Broken Nose (Greg Kinnear), Bound Man (Joe Pantoliano), Rancher Shirt (Barry Pepper) and Handcuffed Man (Jeremy Sisto). In another location that the audience is privileged to see is a young woman, Eliza Cole (Bridget Moynahan), whose wealthy husband has been kidnapped along with a noted industrialist. As the FBI watches she leaves the ransom in a locker. The first thought most in the audience would naturally have is three of the unnamed men are holding the other two but the mystery remains who each man is and how does he fit in to the crime. The men find a two day old newspaper that provides some vague indication that they are part of the high profile kidnapping but offers no help to resolve their predicament. The only clues to what has happened appear as flashbacks when each man looks into the grimy bathroom mirror. Slowly the facts start to surface. Clearly, three of the men are the kidnappers and two are the victims but individually they cannot determine their roles in the unfolding mystery. Fragments of each man’s memories return but unless they can somehow forge a fundamental trust between them no one man has enough of the puzzle. Some secrets of the location also begin to unfold. This is no run of the mill warehouse. It has been fitted with high security locks and bars on the windows. After all if escape was easy the major plot point would be moot. The men could simply leave. The race is on for the men; who would be the first to unravel the truth. Coalitions are formed, broken and remade as sides shift rapidly. Early on Jean Jacket emerges as the leader only to be opposed by Rancher Shirt. Broken Nose is the most frighten to the point of overt cowardice. Bound man is verbose but as ineffectual as the almost catatonic, bleeding Handcuffed Man.
This is an interesting premise and a somewhat novel twist on the memory loss genre. The pacing is broken with the secondary storyline of the outside world. If the exposition that this thread provided could have been somehow confined to the warehouse the suspense might have been greatly increased. This would also have given it a feel of a one set play allowing for greater emotional impact. Using the wife and police to fill in some of the pieces for the audience is handled fairly well but these scenes often break the tension of the men in the room. This is the freshmen effort for the script writer and director. Simon Brand has directed music videos before and now, like many others behind the scenes in videos, is trying to break into featured length films. He has great potential and the experimental nature of this film shows he is willing to take some risks. The film is too reminiscent of other, better made films. This is also the first major screenplay for Matthew Waynee. Like Brand he has a future in his chosen field but needs some time to hone his skills. The dialogue is often disconnected, leading the audience in circles. While this may seem to fit the situation it comes off as unfocused.
The cast is just about ‘Usual Suspects: The Next Generation." The main actors in this film represent some of the finest talent in the industry today. Jim Caviezel may have been Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s epic but here he is far from being a savior. In some respects he builds on his role in the much lamented ‘Angel Eyes’ only with more intensity and without Jennifer Lopez around to chew the scenery. He gives a forceful and reasonably developed perform that rises above the flaws of the film. Greg Kinnear may have started on a basic cable clip show but he has become an actor who can inhabit almost any role. It takes a strong actor to play such a sniveling character and still keep the audience’s attention. Joe Pantoliano never disappoints. After all he is ‘Joey Pants’ and he commands the screen in every scene that he appears in. With all of this testosterone abounding you do need some feminine influence. Bridget Moynahan is beautiful and is able to play a supporting role very well. Here she is not afforded much of an opportunity to really get much done.
This film is given its DVD release by the Weinstein Company in partnership with Genius Production. They are both well known for bringing interesting little pictures that much of the audience may not have been aware of. For an Indy this DVD has excellent technical specifications. The video is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The color balance is well done even in the scenes where the director pushes the palette for emotional effect. The Dolby 5.1 audio is robust and features a full sound stage. The rear speakers give the feel of the large room bringing you into the conflict. There are some deleted and extended scenes provided as extras just to give a little more value to the disc. Overall, this is a gimmick film but it works to hold your interest.