Starring: Jim Caviezel, Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantiolano, Jeremy Sisto, Bridget Moynahan, Peter Stormare
Director: Simon Brand
In the past, the low-budget crime thriller has been the most significant turning point in the professional careers of several directors. The critical success of Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” led to the eventual production of “Pulp Fiction,” Bryan Singer snagged “X-Men” after wowing us with “The Usual Suspects,” and Christopher Nolan followed up the psychological thriller “Memento” with a reboot of the Batman franchise. Even James Wan – who introduced the world to Jigsaw in his directorial debut (“Saw”) – is on the verge of breaking out, so you can’t blame new-kid-on-the-block Simon Brand for taking a shot with “Unknown.
Designed much in the same vein as the aforementioned “Saw,” the story begins when five strangers (Jim Caviezel, Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantoliano and Jeremy Sisto) wake up in a warehouse with no memory of who they are or how they got there. The building is an impenetrable fortress with only one way out – a solid steel door with a password-protected lock – and no one can remember the combination. In fact, it seems the cause of their sudden memory loss is a canister of toxic gas that they’ve been breathing in for two days, and if they don’t get out soon, they may just all die. The situation gets even tenser when it’s discovered that two of the men are multimillionaires taken hostage by the other three, and the only way to uncover the identities of the real victims and criminals is to work together.
Short and sweet at a ridiculously fast-paced 98 minutes, Matthew Waynee’s script is loaded with enough twists and turns to keep any loyal fan of the genre drooling for more. Sadly, the director chooses to play most of his cards too early, and while Brand does manage to save couple big reveals until the very end, the audience learns far too much about the heist to begin making accurate speculations of their own. Apparently, these guys didn’t attend the M. Night Shyamalan School of Twists, but they did take a few classes in how to properly cast a film. The talented group of B-listers is quick to tap into the same aura of paranoia that made films like “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Usual Suspects” so engaging to watch, and though this go-around has absolutely nothing new to offer the genre, it’s obvious that Brand and Waynee did their homework.
The whodunit suspense flick probably won’t garner the same cult reaction as the films that inspired it, but it’s still one of the best indie titles of 2006; despite the fact that the Weinstein Company had no clue how to market the damn thing. After only a few weeks in limited release, the film was yanked out of theaters and promptly ushered on to DVD to die a quick death. Fortunately, the direct-to-DVD market is the perfect place for a movie like this to earn an audience, and “Unknown” should have no problem doing so with the moviegoing public anxiously awaiting the next great crime thriller. This probably isn’t it, but it’s still a worthy addition to a genre in dire need of a little jolt.
The single-disc DVD release of “Unknown” hasn’t exactly been showered with special features. The only bonus material to appear is a nine-minute reel of deleted and extended scenes, none of which should have necessarily made the cut, but are entertaining to watch nonetheless.