PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

Unknown (2006)

James Caviezel

One or two resist their designations: Bound Man doesn't want to be bound, Broken Nose resents that mishap.


Unknown

Director: Simon Brand
Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Peter Stormare, Greg Kinnear, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Clayne Crawford, Bridget Moynahan, Joe Pantoliano, Barry Pepper
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Weinstein Co.
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-11-03 (Limited release)
Trailer
No, man. You wanna kill me, you do it to my face.

--Rancher Shirt (Barry Pepper)

A man in a jean jacket (Jim Caviezel) wakes up on a warehouse floor. Groggily, he scopes his surroundings, the space generic, without context. Stained walls, metal shelving, office chairs on wheels. In one chair sits a man tied up (Joe Pantoliano), and handcuffed to a shelf, he spots another man (Jeremy Sisto), bloody from a recent gunshot. Jean Jacket stumbles into the bathroom, where he stares into the mirror and rubs his face as he wonders out loud, "Who the fuck are you?"

Turns out that Jean Jacket and the others have no memories of who they are or how they got here. They do see that they're all the worse for wear, surmise that they’ve been subjected to some sort of chemical "gas" that has erased their memories, and that they are, indeed, violent men. Who's on which side, however, is, as the film's title underlines, Unknown. Also unknown are their names. Though they locate -- very conveniently -- a newspaper clipping that names two local kidnap victims (the men rightly assume these are among their number) -- for most of the movie, they are identifiable only by their prominent traits. Thus: Jean Jacket, Handcuffed Man, Bound Man (on the chair), Broken Nose (Greg Kinnear), and Rancher Shirt (Barry Pepper).

Given that Jean Jacket is your first point of contact, you are inclined to take him as the "hero," or at least the character with whom you will connect emotionally and follow through the rest of the proceedings. In this, Unknown, directed by first timer Simon Brand, has an intriguing fundamental concept. Given that manly men movies rely on types, why not abandon the pretense that they are "individuals" and name them as such? The situation here is also generic, though somewhat mixed: equal parts Saw, Cube, and Reservoir Dogs, with a dash of Memento, the primary reference for movies featuring characters without memories, though Bourne Identity works just as well here). The action is focused in a small space with thick walls and barred windows, made urgent by a gruff-voiced phone call that promises the caller and crew are "coming" by sundown.

For most of the running time, the men in the warehouse struggle to find a way out, picking fights. They spend a lot of energy trying to get to a window up high in the wall, fighting over a glock they discover among the detritus, and finding ways to use the f-word: asked if he remembers his name, Broken Nose snarls, "My name? Fuck your mother, that's my name" (watching Kinnear deliver this line provides its own small pleasure). Eventually, they resign themselves to the coming encounter with "Snakeskin" (Peter Stormare) and other nasty men, an encounter that will surely be violent, though no one knows who will be on which side. One or two resist their designations: Bound Man doesn't want to be bound, Broken Nose resents that mishap. Bound Man rages at the others' joint decision to leave him that way ("This isn't 'teams'! We're all in this together, period"). For his part, Broken Nose taunts him, rather colorfully, "You'll always be the pussy who's tied up to an office chair."

Trying to decipher themselves, the men look through their own belongings, and challenge one another's findings. Jean Jacket finds an engraved lighter in his pocket, though he doesn't remember being a smoker and the "Erin" engraved on it might be a wife, a daughter or someone else. Handcuffed Man remembers a childhood scene, when he was friends with Jean Jacket, but is he lying, method acting, or delirious because he's dying? The movie, for the most part, maintains a seeming sense of humor about its premise: Rancher Shirt observes solemnly that the warehouse is very carefully and expensively locked down: "There's something either very dangerous or very valuable in here." Ah yes, that would be the manly men.

You know some of them will be dead by film's end. It's the generic way. While the men debate existential and other questions among themselves -- should they untie Bound Man or is he bound for a good reason? Who shot Handcuffed Man? And how come Jean Jacket is so damned sensitive when he might be the most ruthless killer of all? -- the movie expands its visual and narrative field with flashbacks and cutaways to current action elsewhere. So, you see Eliza (Bridget Moynahan) involved in a ransom money drop, clicking around on her high heels with a bag full of money. She's immediately identified as the wife of one of the kidnap victims, working with mostly bland (save for Chris Mulkey, always gnarly) and badly underdcovered detectives (anyone, even one-day extras, would spot them as cops).

But even as you anticipate what's next, formula demands that at least some of the men's judgments will be wrong. As soon as Rancher Shirt tells Jean Jacket, "For whatever reason, you're the only one I feel like I can trust," you know he can't be trusted and that Rancher Shirt is in for a rude surprise. Or not. His optimism prods the others to question their own ostensible darkness: are they villains because they're born/written that way, or can they make choices, even now, after their pasts are done, though not remembered, except in sketchy, unconvincing flashback sequences? "The choices we make from here on out of this shit-hole," Rancher Shirt insists, "That's what’s gonna define us." He can only hope.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.