It’s been a long, long while since my last post. Nearly four months to be exact. I bet you wondered what happened, but were too afraid to write me and ask. Did I give up on the project, overwhelmed by the daunting task of watching all of Greg Kinnear’s movies? Did I receive a cease & desist letter from Greg’s lawyer, who was creeped out by my level of fandom? Truth is, a lot has happened in four months. Some excessively long movie named Endgame ended superhero movies forever. Not one, but TWO live-action Disney movies came out. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup. I re-watched nearly two seasons of Fringe. And, oh yeah, we welcomed a new baby boy to our family! We named our son after the greatest living actor, Tobias Menzies. Wait, let me try that again. We named our son after the greatest living actor,
Greg Kinnear Tobias Menzies. Huh, my computer must be glitching. [Full disclosure: we did not choose the name Tobias because of the actor, despite my obsession with Season 1 of The Terror].
So yeah, life has been wonderful. Wonderful and busy. But now it’s time to add Greg Kinnear back into my life. After all, this blog will be part of the legacy I leave my kids. [Full disclosure: that was a joke].
The next movie on my list to review is Unknown, a completely mediocre movie that was released straight-to-DVD in 2006. Unknown is basically Memento, but if Memento was mostly boring, had terrible cinematography, and everyone had amnesia not just Guy Pearce. If you haven’t seen Memento, you really should. It’s Christopher Nolan’s best movie. If you haven’t seen Unknown, I watched it twice so you don’t have to. The movie stars Greg Kinnear and Jim Caviezel (who you probably haven’t thought about since Passion of the Christ), and the ending features a series of twists! If these twists intrigue you (or don’t), read on!
Directed by Simon Brand, the premise of Unknown is simple enough. Five men wake up trapped in a warehouse–all with amnesia caused by a broken chemical canister. These men are Jim Caviezel, Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear, and two secondary characters–handcuffed man and tied-up man. Caviezel wakes up first. He scans the room and sees tied-up man in a chair, handcuffed man dangling from a second-floor railing with a gunshot wound, and Greg Kinnear face-down with a broken nose. Caviezel discovers that all the windows are barred and the only exit requires a keypad code, i.e. they are trapped! He hears a phone ring and answers it. The callers ask if he left his gun in the warehouse (yes), and says he’ll be back at sundown.
Then tied-up man wakes up and calls for help. Caviezel is about to untie him, when Barry Pepper enters and warns against it. Tied-up man was bound for a reason, and it would be unwise to release him. Everyone else wakes up (like the game mafia), and soon learn of the phone call. Kinnear and Caviezel want to use the phone to call for help, but Pepper finds a dead mall cop in a locker so calling the police would be confessing to murder. Kinnear finds a newspaper stating that a rich man named Coles and his financial adviser were kidnapped from the same mall. At this point, everyone realizes two of the men are the hostages, the other three are some of the kidnappers, and the callers were also kidnappers. But who’s who?!
Meanwhile far away from the warehouse, the other kidnappers who called are collecting ransom money from Mrs. Coles for the save release of Mr. Coles. The FBI work with Mrs. Coles (Bridget Moynahan) to the deliver ransom money to a locker in a train station. The FBI plan to track the money and catch the kidnappers. But the locker has a false bottom, and the kidnappers escape with the money. The FBI continue to try to chase these dudes in various cut scenes throughout the movie, but you get the picture.
Back at the warehouse, the dudes’ memories return every time they look in a mirror. Seriously, this movie would be over if the dudes just went to the bathroom together. Caviezel remembers he has a daughter who died from an insulin reaction. Kinnear remembers he’s the financial advisor and Pepper is Coles. Kinnear tries to convince Pepper, but Pepper hasn’t looked in a mirror yet. Then the crew finds the missing gun, and there are a lot of really boring filler scenes with dudes yelling at each other and/or trying to escape the building. At some point, Pepper remembers he’s Coles.
Eventually, handcuffed man’s memory returns and he remembers being childhood friends with Caviezel and together clinging to a capsized boat for hours like in Titanic. Then handcuffed man dies from his gunshot wound. This unites the remaining four who decide to attack the other kidnappers (who collected the ransom money) when they return.
Said kidnappers return and in a wild finale basically everyone dies except Caviezel and Pepper. During this finale, Pepper’s memories return to show the viewer how he and Kinnear were kidnapped and tied to chairs in the warehouse, but then escaped and started fighting with their captors until the canister broke and the mystery gas wiped everyone’s memories. Caviezel’s returning memories reveal that after his daughter died he became an undercover cop infiltrating the kidnapping gang through his childhood buddy handcuffed man. So the viewer can be happy that all three main characters are good guys. But no! More memories reveal that Caviezel went rogue, started an affair with Mrs Coles (Moynahan), and organized the kidnapping so that Mr Coles (Pepper) would end up dead. This plan clearly failed. Roll credits.
Admittedly, the ending was fun and filled with a flurry of energy missing from the rest of the movie. One dude loved the twists so much he wrote a whole post analyzing them in detail. IMO the ending did not save an otherwise dull movie. Much of the movie’s middle felt like filler scenes, which is bad for an 85-minute runtime. The cinematography was also terrible. The warehouse was super drab, weird blurs marked characters’ memories returning, and the action scenes were the opposite of John Wick.
Genie Greg in a Bottle
Unknown is Greg Kinnear’s bottle episode. For the unfamiliar, a bottle episode is a TV episode set in one place where confinement probes new aspects of characters or forces simmering tensions to the surface. Think Breaking Bad’s “Fly” or Community’s “Cooperative Calligraphy.” These episodes rely heavily on the context provided by the long-running nature of TV shows, such that it is much harder to make a “bottle movie.” But it is possible, particularly with horror/thriller movies where cramped quarters build tension–and the rare sci-fi movie (i.e., Moon) or drama movie (i.e., Rear Window, 12 Angry Men).
For “bottle movies” to work–mounting tension, a strong central conflict, and/or great character development have to take center state. Unknown was meant to be a “bottle movie” in the thriller genre, but the movie fails both to build tension and develop its characters. Tensions don’t mount, because the imminent return of the ransom money-collecting kidnappers poses no real threat to most of the men in the warehouse (who, you know, are also kidnappers even if they can’t remember). Likewise, the character development is very one dimensional as a bunch of angry, shouting men fight over a gun while they wait for their memories to return.
So I’m sorry to say that Greg’s acting was also very one-dimensional. From the moment he woke up, he essentially shouted and cussed his way through the movie. If you want to see Greg cuss like a sailor, then Unknown is perfect for you. But all told, Greg’s aggression in this movie undermines the reveal that he’s the financial advisor. I have to believe that even if people lost memories, their actions would still fit with their character (science, can you help me out?). Maybe Greg was a very angry and aggressive financial advisor, but his actions don’t fit what I picture to be the character type.
Greg does get a chance to plead for his life before he’s shot–and Greg can plead like the best of them. But this plea is short, and nothing compared to Greg’s displays of desperation in movies like Mystery Men and Thin Ice. In short, Unknown disappointed me both as a movie and as a Greg Kinnear performance.
- Unknown is a bottle episode thriller where five men with amnesia are trapped in a warehouse and must remember who they are before their captors return.
- The movie was straight-to-DVD which speaks to its low budget and low quality, despite a semi-stacked cast (for 2006) and twist-filled ending.
- Greg’s acting is very one-dimensional, as reflected in the Kinnear Meter. He mostly cusses, yells, and fights with other dudes over a gun. When you find out he’s a good guy but not the main good guy, you immediately know he’s going to die.
- Next-up: Another thing that happened in the last four months is the release of Greg Kinnear’s directorial debut, Phil! I LOL’d at Greg adopting Greek accents in the trailer, and I’m excited to analyze him as actor and director.
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